A lifetime of helping others

As a young woman, Margo Pals longed to be a nurse.

She saw it as a way to nurture a strong desire to help others. Her father, a farmer, saw a different path for her.

“I felt that I wanted to give to people, and he said, ‘No, you don’t want to be a nurse. You want to be on the farm,’” recalls Margo.

And so from a happy childhood spent on the farm, she married into farm life when she was 19 years old. And it was a fulfilling life. She loved her role as a farmer working alongside her husband, Bud (Francis), to whom she was married for nearly 70 years before his death in 2018, and she treasured being a mother to their seven children.

Despite her busy schedule, Margo also found a way to connect to health care and to nurture her passion for helping those in her community. For more than five decades, she was a regular volunteer at Castor’s Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital, the site where five of her children were born. Since 2018, it’s also been her home and where, even at age 90, she still finds ways to give back.

“I’ve had a very healthy life,” says Margo, as she rolls in her wheelchair through the hallways of the long-term care section of the facility. “I don’t want to sit around. There’s always something I can do.”

That’s why she's still a member of the hospital auxiliary and serves as the chair of the Family and Resident Council, a collaboration at the Covenant Health site that supports event planning and provides input on areas such as the menu and summer barbecues, as well as the care delivery at the site.

“I think somebody has to represent the residents,” she says of her elected role.

Margo spends time listening and gathering feedback from her 19 fellow residents to make sure she clearly understands their needs. She sets the council’s meeting agendas based on what she hears. “It has to come from the people. That’s why I try to talk to each of them for their viewpoint.”  

Site administrator Colleen Enns is impressed with Margo’s leadership. “She’s very egalitarian. She makes sure everyone has a voice.”

And the council, which meets quarterly, has impact, agree Colleen and Margo.

“I’m so thrilled because we should always be listening to the voices of our residents and patients,” says Colleen. “The residents wanted to have a huge amount of input into the menu redesign. They went through the menu with a fine toothcomb and continue to provide recommendations to improve both nutrition and quality for the hospital and long-term care site.”

More fresh fruit options and increased protein choices for snacks were among the changes sparked by the council’s requests, along with taste tests and frequent feedback cycles.

“Giving people choices and autonomy is important,” says Colleen.

“Attention is being paid,” says Margo of the council’s input.

Individualization of birthday celebrations also came from a council request — a change from the previous monthly celebrations. Now, the hospital creates a special birthday for each resident that represents the person, such as a Hawaiian beach-themed celebration, complete with cake, palm trees, beach chairs and sand, for a former world traveller whose favourite destination was Hawaii or a celebration with a 3D puppy cake for a woman who loves canines. The facility’s community board funds the celebrations.

“We announce the birthday over the intercom, and everyone who’s able comes and sings to that resident. People have been delighted with the surprise, and some have shed tears of happiness. Some of our residents don’t have family who are able to come in,” says Colleen.

The need to recognize residents and patients and ensure their needs are met is important, says Colleen. And it’s why the site also has the Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital Quality Council, where Margo serves as the resident representative. The quality council meets monthly and measures all aspects of care, including maintenance and quality of life.

“Margo’s been incredibly instrumental on our quality council as well,” says Colleen.

The council was developed with Margo’s input.

"I feel it’s a privilege to give and to care.”

And that giving of her time will continue as long as she’s able, says Margo. “I still like helping people. Life is what you make it.”

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