For years, the Mount Newton Centre has been supporting seniors who live on Greater Victoria’s Saanich Peninsula.
“Our mission is to provide services to seniors that are living on the Saanich Peninsula, that will enable them to live in their homes for as long as is safely possible” says Bridget Shumka. Shumka is the coordinator of Mount Newton Centre’s Adult Day Program.
That ‘mission’ changed radically with the arrival of COVID-19 and when the Centre closed its doors on March 13.
“We closed the place up,” says Shumka, “and I thought ‘well, we’ll be closed probably for a couple of weeks, maybe two to three weeks to sort this all out.'”
Shumka kept in close touch with the Centre’s clients.
“I was continuing to contact people, to ask them how they were doing. We had 50 clients that we needed to keep track of.”
As everything shut down the following week, Shumka saw a change in the tone of those check-in phonecalls.
“The clients’ families were saying, ‘we don’t know how we’re going to shop, we don’t know how we’re going to do this’ so I said to myself, ‘well, we provide meals five days a week. We have a kitchen, and we can grocery shop for people, because we have staff. Our staff are still available.'”
And so, staff at Mount Newton Centre took on new duties.
“Some did grocery shopping, and pharmacy shopping, and dog-food shopping, and the others worked on making meals. We’re now up to well over 60 meals, three times a week, that get delivered” says Shumka.
The Centre also loans out health equipment to Saanich Peninsula residents, through the Loan Cupboard.
“We’ve been still operating from Day One,” says Linda Dolphin, Loan Cupboard co-ordinator. “We still had lots and lots of people coming in every day, bringing equipment back, or needing equipment. More so bringing it back because of their surgeries being cancelled. Our hours are a little bit more fluctuating now, but for us, it’s never stopped. So it’s pretty busy at the moment for sure.”
Mount Newton Centre has been a lifeline for Elaine Dendy and her husband of 53 years, John. It was about two years ago that her “outgoing, friendly, always happy” husband suddenly began to get confused. “The hardest part is that sometimes he doesn’t even know who I am now. That’s how fast he’s deteriorated in two years.”
Before the pandemic, Elaine brought John to the Centre for four hours every week, giving her a few hours to herself.
“We refer to them as the everyday unsung heroes,” says Shumka. “They are the spouses of our group of clients that have dementia. [Their loved one] doesn’t understand why they can’t go outside, there’s a lack of stimulation, their dementia has worsened…” Shumka’s voice trails off as she thinks about the heartbreaking consequence of COVID-19 for her clients.
Elaine Dendy agrees. “All those people that were coming here [to Mount Newton Centre] are now without. If I wasn’t able to get around and do the things that I’m doing for John, what would happen to John?”
Those worries are why Mount Newton Centre is doing everything it can to support their clients and their caregivers.
“We’ve just been able to start home visits,” says Shumka. “We got the protocol from Island Health, so that’s going to make a big difference. And we’re starting a virtual adult daycare program. We’ve had donations of the tablets come in, so we’re going to get everybody set up.”