Finding Home at Ottewell Manor

“…these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”

Kim Ruzycki remembers her first visit to Ottewell Manor. She recalls touring the building, walking through the dining room and seeing all the rooms in the building that she and her neighbours would be living in. She had spent the previous year living at Rosary Hall and many of her neighbours there were also making the switch to Ottewell Manor, so she wasn’t nervous about moving. In fact, as she settled into her new home, she was surprised by what her living conditions were like.Ottewell Manor

“We can make all of our own decisions and do things for ourselves,” Ruzycki says. “But there is a strong support system here.”

Ruzycki is one of 38 residents currently living in Ottewell Manor. And like all the residents at Ottewell Manor, she’s living with conditions that would make living completely independently almost impossible. Residents at Ottewell Manor live with a range of different conditions from depression and anxiety to bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ottewell Manor was built in 1962 and was a seniors lodge for many years. In 2010, negotiations between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Greater Edmonton Foundation Seniors Housing (GEF Seniors Housing) began with the intention of dedicating Ottewell Manor strictly for seniors struggling with mental health conditions. In May of 2012, Ottewell Manor’s first new residents started moving in.

“None of us had any background in mental health before Ottewell Manor opened,” explains Shelley Fox, Assistant Manager with GEF Seniors Housing who spends the majority of her time overseeing the operations of Ottewell Manor. “We received some training from AHS before we opened, but we also set some clear guidelines in our agreement as to where the mental health support would be coming from.”

GEF Seniors Housing’s partnership with AHS focuses on the operations and support for its residents. Therapists, case workers, and even some homecare providers work directly with GEF Seniors Housing to ensure that everyone living in Ottewell Manor is receiving the mental health support that they need.

“AHS are the experts in mental health, we know and respect that and we wouldn’t want to try and replace that,” says Lisa Bereziuk, Manager of the larger Ottewell portfolio of buildings for GEF Seniors Housing. “What we as supportive living are doing is ensuring that the other side of that quality of life equation is being met. We’re making sure that the food we serve is of the best quality, the recreation options are things our residents are interested in, that the building is clean and well taken care of, and that the day to day of living here is the best it can possibly be.”

Like all GEF Seniors Housing supportive living sites, Ottewell Manor features a full commercial kitchen with a Red Seal chef on staff, a designated recreation coordinator setting up programs for the residents, and the freedom for the residents to choose what they want to take part in.

Both Fox and Bereziuk attribute a large part of Ottewell Manor’s success to the open communication they continue to have with their partners in AHS. With each organizations’ roles so clearly defined, there’s very rarely any disconnect between them, and that helps keep the operations in Ottewell Manor running smoothly and ensures that all the residents have a great quality of life.

“Hospital visits are considerably down for our residents, and most of the time you can’t even tell our residents are living with any sort of condition,” says Fox. “The work being done here is helping a lot with breaking the current stigma around mental health. Even within GEF Seniors Housing, new staff will be hired and not realize what Ottewell Manor does and they’ll be visibly uncomfortable about it until they actually visit Ottewell Manor and see how wrong their misconceptions were. That these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”

What’s most important for Fox and Bereziuk every day is that the residents are happy with where they live. And they get to see their efforts help people with everything from just getting comfortable with where they’re living to helping with larger issues such as hoarding. The residents often show their appreciation for what the staff with GEF Seniors Housing does for them; some a little more vibrantly than others.

“There was one resident who became especially attached to the Ottewell portfolio’s previous manager Susan Scott and during our opening this resident actually hugged [Scott] so hard that she needed to see a chiropractor afterward,” says Bereziuk with a laugh. “But I think that resident expressed what a lot of the other residents were feeling that day and still continue to feel. And when we see our residents express that level of happiness, we know we’re doing a good job at giving them a good quality of life.”

Article and accompanying photo provided compliments of GEF Senior’s Housing.


Dead Weight …People?

I recently had a conversation with René Lamothe…

René is a man of Cree descent who serves as a Spiritual Advisor at Ambrose Place in Edmonton.  Rene made a very interesting observation about how we have come to think about or weigh each other as people.  He noted that when medicines are made or plants are studied, biologists and chemists will often focus on a plant’s “active ingredients.” Drawing out the things that enable life and purpose in a plant, and discarding the rest.  Rene suggested that we tended to do the same things when we look at each other as human beings.  We tend to celebrate and venerate those among us who we see as active and vital players in our functioning as a society. 

As we reflected on the implications of that, we came to realize that this is true of how we can think of each other even at a neighbourhood level.  A community might see a Senior’s complex in their neighbourhood as a liability, and not an asset.  Why?  Because a community thrives with strong families and individuals who can volunteer and serve actively in their community; running their soccer program and organizing neighbourhood events.   What runs behind this thinking?  The idea that seniors are no longer active ingredients in a community’s makeup.  But is that right?

Or how about people in poverty or people with mental illnesses or addictions?  Here too, we might paint brush with some of the same sentiment, believing that a neighbourhood with many people in poverty has few active ingredients to make the community tick.  In our broad judgment, we believe people with addictions or mental illnesses do not tend to be contributing members to society, and we are reluctant to see them as such.   Rather, we will sometimes discuss them as burdens that we have a responsibility to care for.   And while it may be true that people in crisis are often able to give very little, many of them are happy to give from what little they have to make their community stronger. 

Maybe our desire to celebrate only the strongest members of the community is unhealthy.  After all, in the human body every part plays a role.  The mind and the heart do play pretty critical roles with lots of heavy lifting, but the smaller pieces are also of great significance.   In the Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul uses exactly that analogy in his letter to the Ephesians to talk about how people should see each other.  What should our response be towards those in our midst who are suffering, in crisis, or gradually losing ability?

If I smash the tip of my finger with a hammer, what is my instant response?  I take notice.  I care for it.  I might try to gently massage it to help get circulation back so it is able to be restored.  It may be fairly tender for a while and require some time and energy, but my body’s natural response deems it worth the sacrifice.  Our bodies are not quick to write off any part as dead weight, instead their primary practice is to nurse an injured part back to health. 

Can we cling to the same outlook for each other?  People in poverty struggle against many roadblocks that keep them from thriving.  Could those of us with strength to do so help clear some of those out of the way?  People with fixed incomes are having trouble affording housing in an expensive market like Edmonton.  Can we help build creative and healthy solutions that will enable them to live in safety and dignity?  People carrying the burdens of trauma and mental illness too often find themselves doing so on the street, in a state of constant crisis.  Can we provide safe and supportive places for them to grieve and to heal?  People of all backgrounds experience the life-draining effects of loneliness and isolation.  Can we work together to enfold each other in safe and warm community; a community that gives life to all of us?

We do not easily give up on our bodies when they are injured; instead we fight for the possibility of healing and restoration.    Let’s take that fight for what is possible to the work of restoring, loving and healing each other.

by Mike Van Boom,  June 1, 2016