A place to call home

Walter and Gisela Winkler have surpassed many milestones in their 66 years of marriage. They both survived the Second World War, immigrated to Canada from Germany, learned a new language, raised a family and are now growing old together.

A few years ago, when Gisela’s dementia meant she couldn’t live in their family home any longer, she moved to a memory care suite at Holy Cross Manor, a Covenant Care supportive living community in Calgary, and has been there ever since. Walter moved to Evanston Summit, an adjacent independent living community managed by Covenant Living, but he still felt troubled that he was apart from his wife.

One day, he asked the resident experience director, Michelle Charlesworth, if he could be moved to the same building as his wife. Michelle says she first made arrangements to add an extra bed in Gisela’s studio suite to keep the couple together but realized that was not a sustainable option because of the limited space. She then advocated to get Walter his own independent living suite at Holy Cross Manor. 

“They wanted to be together, and my mission was to figure it out. My duty is to solve our residents’ problems or help them overcome barriers. We don’t think outside of the box, because there is no box. There is always something you can do to help.”

These days, Holy Cross Manor has become the couple’s new home. Walter and Gisela spend all their days together. Walter makes meals for his wife in his suite or spends time with her in her suite. They go for walks together and participate in activities within the community. “My upbringing in Germany taught me that it is my duty to care for my wife, through thick and thin and till death do us part, and that is what I am now able to do every day,” says Walter.

Creating a homelike environment has been a key focus of the organization’s mandate, says Doreen Wilson, who helped open the community as the site administrator in 2014. “From the beginning, we intentionally tried to create a different, ‘homelike,’ resident-centred, family culture where residents can have individual experiences that focus on the whole person — body, mind and soul. Although we will never take the place of our residents' family homes, we hope to be a close substitute.” Doreen now works as a consultant on projects with Covenant Care.

Another way to help residents feel at home is the language that is used — or avoided. For example, words like “facility,” “unit,” “floor” and “discharged” are replaced with “home,” “cottages,” “Wellness 1” and “move in/move out.” “It’s in the nuances that we’re trying to build that sense of home,” says recreation therapist Jackie Allen.

Site design also plays an important part in engendering a feeling of community. Holy Cross Manor, St. Marguerite Manor and Evanston Summit are all connected by a parking lot and are within walking distance of each other. This layout creates a family-like structure. 

Each “neighbourhood” or area also has its own dining rooms so residents don’t feel like they are eating at a cafeteria. The 250-suite St. Teresa Place, for example, has eight dining rooms. Residents also enjoy weekly church services and outdoor performances by community musicians that are live-streamed on their smart TVs within the comfort of their suites. St. Marguerite Manor is well known for its picturesque courtyard, which has hosted several weddings.

Also contributing to the residents’ sense of belonging are the monthly resident council meetings, where residents have a forum to provide feedback, raise concerns and ask questions — and every request is carefully considered.

Diane Giorgini, a resident at St. Marguerite Manor, wanted some small improvements made, and the staff listened to her. “Food is very important to me, so I like going to the resident council meetings to give my feedback and help the kitchen improve on certain things, like the pasta sauce because I’m Italian. Same thing with housekeeping — I go because I am interested in where our bottle return money goes to. I also like giving my ideas on purchases that will make the building better from a resident’s point of view.”

While resident councils are a great way to hear from residents, Michelle says those who aren’t as vocal are not forgotten. If a resident has not been visited by family, or if they appear withdrawn, a staff member dedicates one-on-one time with them. “We check in with them and engage with them.”

Regardless of the spectrum of care that residents require, every person in Covenant is treated with respect, integrity and compassion, and Michelle says it all comes down to staying true to their mission, vision and values as a Catholic and all-inclusive organization.

Vera Rousseau, the wife of Art, a resident of Dulcina Hospice at St. Marguerite Manor, says extra touches, such as compassion, matter. “Dulcina Hospice has provided the comforts my husband, Art, so very much needed. The hospice staff have encouraged and guided our family in a kind, compassionate way and enabled all our family to have the flexibility needed at this time so we may just be with our dear Art. The comforts of the hospice, and the compassionate care by the hospice team, have been fantastic.”

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