New service model helps seniors stay independent

After Marie, 93, injured her leg last year, she worked on regaining her strength by walking the hallways outside her suite at Martha’s House, the independent living facility where she makes her home in Lethbridge. When she was ready to go back to having her meals in the dining room, she signed on to receive walking support as part of the new service model now in place at the Covenant Living facility.  

“We saw the service as an opportunity for Mom to have a little bit of support that will not only give her the confidence to do things but also help strengthen her thigh muscles as she’s walking,” says Wendy Thurston, Marie’s daughter.

The service model was introduced at Martha’s House in fall 2021, and Marie began getting walking support a few months later. The model gives her and other residents the opportunity to purchase personalized services from a menu of expanded hospitality and health and wellness options, supplementing the support available to them through Alberta Health Services’ home care program, their family or the community.

The introduction of the model came in response to requests from residents and their family members, as well as to the needs of seniors in the community who may be looking at moving into an independent seniors’ living facility, says Joyce Turner, site manager. They wanted more options for activities, meals and hospitality services along with access to health-related services that support independence. The model is designed to “help and empower [seniors] and respect their individuality and autonomy by providing choice.” While home care and other service providers may be able to offer a specific service at a specific time, the Martha’s House model allows residents to choose when and how often they receive a service.


For expanded meal options, Martha’s House staff turned to Rob Mensch, regional manager of Aramark, their long-time hospitality services provider. Based on market research of residents’ meal preferences completed with a company called Technomic, Rob and his team put together an “always available” menu that includes four popular items — pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, egg salad croissants and spaghetti and meatballs. Now when residents come to the dining room, they have six different meal options to choose from instead of the previous two daily options.    

Feedback from residents about the new menu has been very positive overall, says Rob. 

“We added in some more comfort-type foods, which the residents really seem to appreciate.”

Rob and his team are also planning a “for purchase” menu, including made-to-order hot breakfasts, which they hope to roll out soon. Down the road, the menu could also possibly include pub-style food that residents could purchase, for example, for visiting grandchildren or other guests.

Always available menu_cropped.jpg

Other new hospitality services available for a fee include room service, a grocery program, à la carte housekeeping (for example, daily garbage removal and spring cleaning packages), personal shopping and more.

Some of the services, for example, personal and grocery shopping, are helpful for people who have been wary of going to stores during the pandemic or are uncomfortable placing orders online, says Joyce. “Being able to offer these services on-site, where we’re an organization that they know and trust, really makes a difference.”

Health and wellness

Additional health and wellness services available for a fee through the model include medication reminders, wake-up calls, assistance with showering, walking programs, wellness checks, blood pressure checks and so on. The services are provided by a team of resident attendants who are available to residents 24/7. As certified health care aides, they have the education and training to help residents feel comfortable in the facility as their needs change over time.

Resident attendant Jacqueline Riley, who works day shifts at Martha’s House, believes the model is improving the quality of life of people who “just need that little extra help.” 

“I get the impression they are more content having the support there.”

Along with assisting residents with daily health and wellness needs, Jacqueline and the other resident attendants will sometimes sit and talk with residents if they are having a rough day.    

“I think just having a person who has the medical knowledge and also is there for them personally is really worthwhile for them,” says Caitlyn Drysdale, an attendant who works with residents on the evening shift. “Unlike home care, where you come in for a certain amount of time and you only do one specific thing, we’re here for the whole shift, and we can talk to the residents multiple times about different things they might need help with.”  

Caitlyn Drysdale

Jacqueline Riley

Currently, six residents are receiving services through the model on a regular basis, and several others are using services as needed. Offering the flexibility to use a service when needed and to support community stakeholders such as home care service providers has made the model successful, says Joyce.

The fee schedule for services is also flexible and has been set at lower costs to make it easier for residents to develop a personalized service plan. Service packages are negotiable and charged at a minimum rate of $135 per month, and individual services are priced at monthly rates. For example, a resident can get help with showering once a week for $50 per month.

After several months in operation, the model has brought opportunities for staff to be more proactive in helping residents access the support they need, says Joyce.  

“What I have noticed, and I think it’s a really great advantage, is that residents are reaching out far more often to share their concerns and to ask questions. There’s less apprehension to ask for help, which really helps us to facilitate independence, whether it be directly through us or by referring and helping them access home care.”

Given the model’s success at Martha’s House, plans are underway to roll it out at Evanston Summit, a Covenant Living centre in Calgary.

With the support she’s received from the resident attendants, Marie has progressed to walking from her suite to the dining room by herself and only needing help going over the ramp at the entrance to the room. Getting to know the attendants has also enhanced her social interactions, her daughter says.

“Why it’s so important is that Mom is back involved in the community there,” says Wendy. “Her confidence is blossoming again, and she is feeling so good that she’s doing more and more herself.”

The flexibility of the model is also helpful, Wendy says. “It’s important to me that we can add or take away a service. [Mom’s] goal would be to not use [the service model], to not need it anymore, and then you know that it’s a successful service, but if the situation changes, we’ve got it to fall back on.”

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