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#FacesofVON

 

Every day, VON staff and volunteers in Ontario and Nova Scotia provide care to our clients and community, keeping them healthy and safe in their homes. As a continuation from our 2020 Year of the Nurse features, we’ll be sharing profiles of VON staff and volunteers throughout 2021 in a new series called #FacesofVON. You’ll get to know more VON team members and why they find their careers at VON rewarding, and what it means to them to be part of a dedicated and compassionate team that helps keep our communities healthier, every day.

Melissa Card, PSW, VON Belleville

How long have you been with VON?
I have worked with VON for almost nine years as a PSW.

Why did you choose a career in home care?
I chose to become a PSW 10 years ago when I lost my dad to his battle with cancer. My dad lived nine hours away and I was unable to make it to him in time, so he passed away alone. I decided then that I wanted to be there for as many people as I could. I didn't want anyone to be alone and family is not always able to be there. I chose home care because it gives me the time with our clients to provide the best care I can, to really get to know our clients and bond with them.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you or that you could give someone else about providing caring support to clients?
The best advice I could give to someone else providing care to our clients is to slow down and enjoy the time with our clients. It's not just about giving them the shower or the tasks you are there to do. Most of the time you will be the only person they will see or talk to – don't care for them because you have to, but because you want to. 

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
Outside of work I like travelling, camping, scrapbooking, and most importantly spending time with my family.

What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done? Or, do you have any big dreams or goals you’d like to accomplish?
My big dream is to one day own a home in Florida and spend six months of the year soaking up the sun. 

Can you think of a time or moment that stands out that brought a smile to your face at work?
There are moments every day that put a smile on my face; it could be a story one of our clients tells me, or the smile on our clients’ faces, or them showing their appreciation for the care they have received. 

What do you find is the most rewarding part of your role at VON, or being part of the VON team?
The most rewarding part of being a PSW for VON is knowing that I am making a difference in so many peoples’ lives. 

Ashley Marchand, CCA, VON Richmond

How long have you been with VON?
I’ve been working for VON for three years now as a home care worker out of the Richmond County site and just recently took on the role of president of our local union for members at the VON Richmond site.

Why did you choose a career in home care?
Many important people in my life are in the healthcare field, so being that close to them and seeing how much of a positive impact they had in the community and to those around them made me feel as though it’s where my heart was meant to be. I’ve been in healthcare for five years now. I first started out in long term care but when the opportunity came up for VON I decided I wanted a change. I quickly realized that I had made the best decision for myself! I love my job! I love going to work every day and I really love forming relationships with my clients and their families. The feeling I get every day like I’m making a difference in someone’s life is exactly why I do this. There is no more rewarding feeling than that for me and that’s exactly why I know I’ve made the right decision for myself and my career.

What is the best piece of advice someone had given you or that you can give to someone else about providing caring support to clients?
The best piece of advice I can give to someone is: do things straight from the heart; always be yourself; believe in yourself; treat everyone the way you would like to be treated and always be positive and be very respectful while considering others’ needs. This has helped me provide the most exceptional care to my clients as I possibly can, every day.

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
I come from a very close family so when I have time off, I spend as much time with my boyfriend, family and friends as I possibly can. I enjoy spending days at the lake during the summer months. I love road trips, shopping and sleepovers with my niece. My dog, Jersey, is a very large part of my life and I love spending time with him.

What is the most courageous thing you’ve done? Do you have big dreams or goals you would like to accomplish?
The most courageous thing I ever did was leaving my full-time job to attend school for the CCA course. Not knowing if I was making the right career choice for myself. After being accepted I gave the course everything I had and continued to push myself through a lot of my fears and managed to excel. I continue to push myself every day to be the best version of myself as I can possibly be. I am so grateful to have the most supportive boyfriend, family and friends who believe in me and always push me to follow my dreams. My dreams and goals are to get married, have kids and build a house to call home. Hopefully after COVID I will be able to travel south.

Can you think of a time or moment that stands out that brought a smile to your face at work?
I can honestly say that every day I go to work it puts a smile on my face leaving every visit feeling as I’ve made a difference. That alone puts a smile on my face. Growing up and living in a small community where everyone knows one another, clients share stories with me of my grandfather, whom they knew, and who passed away, it truly warms my heart. The feeling of happiness when my clients see me is contagious and makes me smile. These clients have over time become an extension of my already close family. I enjoy seeing them and spending time with them.

What do you find the most rewarding part of your role at VON or being a part of the VON team?
I can honestly say that I absolutely love my job and I am beyond grateful to be a part of the VON team and still live in my home town. VON has given me the opportunity to grow within and helped me to use my strengths to help my clients and my coworkers. VON has believed in me not only as a home care provider, but also as a leader; they have encouraged me when times were rough and have pushed me to succeed. VON has allowed me to work in a career that I love and helped build relationships that I will forever be grateful for. Thank you VON for not only believing in me but making it a rewarding workplace. 

Community Heroes: Volunteers aid Meals on Wheels

This story was written by Joey Fitzpatrick and was originally published in The Valley Wire on April 7, 2021

Wayne Lutz delivers Meals on Wheels on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of alternating weeks.

It’s mid-day on a Monday, and Wayne Lutz has just finished making the rounds in Eastern Kings County in his 2019 Dodge Caravan. There are 22,000 kilometers on the vehicle and a good portion of those have been racked up delivering Meals on Wheels, as well as nursing supplies, to local residents.

“In a week when I do both, it would probably be about 200 kilometers,” Lutz says.

Lutz has been making deliveries since 1992, and these days he delivers Meals on Wheels on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, on alternate weeks. He delivers nursing supplies to Eastern Kings residents every Thursday morning. 

His motivation for all of this volunteer effort is straightforward: “I hate sitting at home, doing nothing. I’m able to do it, so why not volunteer?”

On this day, he delivered nine meals to six households. A typical delivery run takes about 45 after he picks up the meals at Valley Regional Hospital. On this morning, he spent an additional 90 minutes packing the meals for the other drivers.

VON has a hot Meals on Wheels program, which serves Kings County, from Greenwich to Berwick, and a frozen Meals on Wheels program in Annapolis and Kings Counties, from Bear River to Hantsport. Lutz delivers both meal programs in Kings County, and he also delivers nursing supplies within the Wolfville to Hantsport areas.

“We rely on our volunteers to run our Meals on Wheels program,” says Katherine Stark, program coordinator at VON Annapolis Valley. “We are very fortunate to have 24 volunteers who help make this program possible and ensure that our clients receive meals weekly.” 

While there has not been much “stopping and chatting” during deliveries in the past year because of the pandemic, the chance to get to know people has always been one of the more rewarding aspects of this volunteer assignment, Lutz says.

“I think when they see the mask, it scares people a bit,” he says. Over the years, however, he has gotten to know many of the folks on his route. For many of the recipients, the delivery of their mid-day meal might be the only time all day they see anybody face-to-face. 

“Some people would keep you there chatting 15 or 20 minutes,” he says. “I have to tell them that I can’t stay that long. I have more meals that have to be delivered.”

Lutz grew up in Lake Paul, Kings County.

“There were only 75 people in the community when I grew up there,” he recalls. He worked for 25 years at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville. 

“I was a nursing orderly. It was called Kings County Hospital then.” 

It’s not uncommon for people to begin their volunteer endeavours after retirement, and so it was with Lutz. It was after retiring in 1991 that he felt the need to stay active and he began volunteering with Meals on Wheels. 

“I didn’t know it was going to turn into what it did but I’m glad that it did.”

Wayne Lutz packs food that will be delivered through the Meals on Wheels program.

Community Heroes: VON home care allowing people to die at home during COVID-19

This story was written by Sara Ericsson and was originally published in The Chronicle Herald on March 17, 2021

Brian Ramessar has a lot of compassion.

He helps care for people who’ve chosen to die at home during COVID-19.

Ramessar is a registered nurse and VON palliative team lead in Yarmouth, where he works alongside other VON nurses to provide home care for clients, including those who’ve chosen to remain at home for their end-of-life journeys.

Working with clients during a time that is full of unknowns is a difficult, but rewarding, job for Ramessar. He says the relationship that forms between client and nurse as they navigate final days is among the most unique he’s ever encountered.

“Being there in the dark with them, holding their hand – it may seem small, but I feel it makes a big difference,” he says.

A holistic approach to care

Brian Ramessar is a registered nurse and VON team lead in Yarmouth, where he has been providing home and palliative care to an increasing number of clients who've chosen to die at home instead of in the hospital during COVID-19.

Ramessar is among the VON Tri-County nursing staff that provides support and care at home to clients in Yarmouth, Shelburne, and Digby counties, including those who’ve elected to die at home.

Tri-County nurse manager Alison Kendrick says the number of referrals in the area has increased during the past year, likely due to the pandemic. She says this care allows clients to remain at home and provides support to those living in isolation, whether due to the pandemic or otherwise.

VON Tri-County nurse manager Alison Kendrick says the not-for-profit's work has always been centred around community-based care that helps clients remain at home.

“Some of our clients never see people, other than our staff. We’ve built a good professional relationship with our clients and they greatly appreciate our services because of that,” she says.

Kendrick says the not-for-profit organization has always received a lot of positive feedback from clients’ experience with home care, as the service has always been centred around helping clients remain living in their home environment.

Ramessar says there are an increasing number of people receiving this crucial care in Yarmouth, as many are choosing to forego dying in a hospital due to COVID-19, where family may not be able to be by their bedside during their final moments due to the pandemic.

For those who are choosing to die at home, Ramessar says the care he and his team are providing them often goes beyond a medical scope to also include emotional support.

“It’s more than just symptom management. The palliative care we practice at VON is holistic … and we’re also a support person, guiding the client and their family through the process,” he says.

A guide through the unknown

Ramessar says while the support provided to each client is often unique, some parallels exist, including what he calls the legacy work that he helps clients complete so they have something to leave behind after they’re gone.

“We often work with clients to do something special for them to leave behind for their loved ones. I’ve helped a father video himself making a speech for his daughter’s wedding and helped people write notes to their loved ones,” he says.

Working with VON has felt like a perfect fit for Ramessar, who joined the organization to combine his passions for charity and nursing. In addition to community-based care, the not-for-profit also has an adult day program, meals service and other services it provides to clients.

“I came into this job wanting to do charitable work and help out, so it’s a beautiful synergy to find a job that has both,” he says.

But Ramessar says the most rewarding part of his work with VON remains walking clients through their end-of-life journeys.

“To be able to be there and be a pillar, helping them through this difficult journey – it’s a privilege to be able to do that and to be there for them in that way,” he says.

Nurse recognized for gerenous, caring spirit: Community nurse steps up and steps in to remedy sickness and sadness with abundance of compassion and care

This story was written by Brandon Young and was originally published in The Clayton Park Wire on March 10, 2021

Karen Hall's compassion and dedication to her work led the Victorian Order of Nurses to recognize her as a community hero.

Where there’s a need, one Halifax-based nurse has the will to find a way. Whether it’s providing a laugh to down-cast patients or giving care to people fighting a deadly virus, Karen Hall has ample amounts of compassion to spare — and enough dosage for everyone she encounters.

“No is one of the hardest words to come out of my mouth,” says Hall, a licensed practical nurse.

Originally from Jamaica, Hall began her benevolent journey in the early 2000s when she started volunteering at a local children’s home on the island. Soon, her dedication saw her redeployed to a nearby area within the Greater Antilles to begin work on another home for Mustard Seed Communities, an international non-profit dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable populations.

“Every aspect of the organization was within my bones; from administrative, nursing and janitorial work to delivery and (being) a chef,” says Hall. “Everything was encompassed within that period.”

Spending two years at the home caring for children who had been abandoned or were dealing with disabilities, mental illness, physical challenges and more, Hall’s passion for helping others was well established.

In 2013, Hall moved to Canada and began work as a continuing care assistant, bringing her boundless capacity for kindness into the homes of patients. Following nearly four years of CCA work, she upgraded her nursing skills and transitioned to a community nurse, continuing to provide at-home care service for patients in the Clayton Park area.

“I get a kick out of nursing when I step into a client’s home, and I’m the only person that they see for the day, and I’ll hum and sing,” says Hall. “If I see that the client is not looking themselves, I sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and they start to sing the song, and the whole aura of that person has changed.”

And Hall has pulled out all of the stops to cheer up patients, like during a Thanks- giving visit where she tickled the ivories to bring a smile to a client — despite not knowing how to play the piano.

“I started boogey-woogeying on the piano singing ‘Lean on Me,’” says Hall. “That client laughed so much. She said, ‘you’re not a piano player, but I’m so happy, you have made my day,’ that was enough for me.”

Alongside sadness, Hall has experience dealing with serious and unprecedented sickness.

When Nova Scotia was hit with its first COVID-19 cases in a long-term care facility, Hall took time out from her community nursing role and voluntarily stepped in to help a short-staffed team assist its facility’s residents. Working with a COVID-19-positive patient, the potentially-fatal virus’ severity was no match for her instinctual caregiving inclinations.

“It doesn’t come as a second thought for me to give of myself; it comes naturally,” says Hall. “I can’t see someone in need and say I’m going to look away.”

On her last day at the facility, many of the residents she helped stood in applause, thanking her for her selfless service and acknowledging the risk she took to herself, as well as her daughter and sister who live with her.

Returning to her role as a community nurse, Hall continues to make house calls during a time when the stakes are high, while patients continue to need help regardless of the world’s state.

“It’s like you’re stepping into the world of the unknown.

You can’t step in with expectations,” says Hall. “The risk that comes with that tells you how strong a person working in communities is, based on the risk factors of stepping into different home environments.”

While Hall wasn’t waiting on recognition or accolades for her good deeds, they have not gone unnoticed — leading the Victoria Order of Nurses to recognize her as a community hero.

“We chose Karen due to her dedication and commitment to her clients. She is a compassionate nurse that represents VON, her colleagues, and her profession so well,” says VON Greater Halifax senior manager, Chantal Davie. “We regularly have clients go out of their way to commend Karen for her excellent, compassionate care.”

And the sentiments are shared.

Hall notes all healthcare organizations have their challenges, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says VON and her colleagues have provided her with the support she needs to thrive during tough times.

“I get as much support as I can and need from the organization. For them to recognize me, what can top that?” says Hall. “And I have to recognize my colleagues.”

Meanwhile, amid the pandemic, Hall is anxiously anticipating the moment when she can safely travel to Jamaica to visit her family, who she misses dearly. Seeing and helping to remedy the world’s challenges and hardships, she looks forward to a future where there is more compassion and empathy.

“Do onto others as how you would have them do onto you,” says Hall, quoting the Gospel of Matthew. “I use that to guide me every day.”

True to her Jamaican roots, Hall adds she follows one more life motto spoken by another prominent man, Bob Marley, perfectly exemplifying her giving character.

“Live for yourself; you live in vain. Live for others; you live again,” says Hall.

Going above and beyond: Liverpool VON nurse naturally offers special treatment to clients, families

This story was written by Peter Simpson and was originally published in South Shore Breaker on March 10, 2021

VON nurse MaryAnn Swansburg is described by her manager as the epitome of a team player, and a skilled nurse who performs her duties with a gentle approach and a smile. 

Lending a helping hand just comes naturally to some people.

The not-for-profit Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) has been pioneering care at home in Canada for more than 120 years, so it should come as no surprise that its mission is to “help people live in their homes and communities by delivering the caring support that they and their families need.”

According to VON nurse manager Barbara Bussey, registered nurse MaryAnn Swansburg, who works out of VON’s Liverpool office, is the living embodiment of that guiding principle.

Bussey says working in and supporting rural communities in Nova Scotia takes special people who understand and empathize with the challenges faced by residents, and Swansburg is a wonderful advocate for client needs.

“On a Wednesday afternoon last fall we received a call from VG hospital in Halifax. The caller told us a Queens County client wanted to go home on the weekend but requires the use of a peritoneal dialysis cycler machine. Our management team realized we did not have the experience required to support a care plan for the client to return home with this particular to dialysis unit,” said Bussey.

“MaryAnn, who lives in Sable River, Shelburne County, volunteered to drive to the city on Thursday, her day off, to spend time with the hospitals dialysis department to learn how to use the equipment and prepare a plan for the client’s successful transition home,” she added.

Bussey said thanks to Swansburg’s selfless action, the client was able to go home the following day.

“Family members were extremely grateful to have their loved one home in familiar surroundings and able to receive the care she needed from our VON nurses,” she said.

“MaryAnn goes above and beyond, always with a gentle approach and smile. She is the epitome of a team player, and we feel fortunate to have her at VON Queens County,” she added.

Deflecting the accolades for her compassionate gesture, Swansberg said it was all in a day’s work.

“I managed to re-arrange a few things so I could make the trip to the city. If not, the client might have had to remain in hospital for a little bit longer. No one wants that. This client had been in hospital for about a month. She was ready to go home to her family,” she said.

When Swansburg returned to her VON office she created a resource document and arranged hands-on training to teach other nurses how to operate the specialized dialysis machine.

Nursing runs in the family for the married mother of 11-year-old fraternal twins.

“My mother was a nurse, so I’ve been around nursing all my life. Nursing was not my first choice, though. I did some tourism stuff, then found I needed a change. I entered the bachelor of science in nursing program at Dalhousie University, where I discovered I love nursing, so I stuck with it. It’s been 14 years. I’ve been with VON the past 18 months,” said Swansburg.

“Nursing has become my passion. It gives me purpose. The most joy I get on the job are the smiles and appreciation I get from the men and women in my care. I’ve always been a caregiver, so making someone feel better, and maybe their day a little brighter, gives me satisfaction,” she added.

Swansburg concedes it hurts her heart when a client she has spent so much time with passes away.

“Taking care of somebody at the end of life is just as much a privilege as bringing someone into the world. I try to provide comfort to the clients and their families at the end,” she said.

Swansburg suggests anyone considering a career in nursing should shadow a VON nurse for a day to observe them in action, then decide if that’s something they would like to pursue.

“I’ve worked in hemodialysis, neurosurgery and long-term care. When I accompanied a VON nurse, I enjoyed the experience and decided to join the VON family. I feel I have found my niche,” she said.

Relieving pain, coming fears and being familiar face are all critical to helping people heal.

The VON believes whether it’s supporting a child in need of paediatric nursing, a senior managing a long-term condition, an individual convalescing from surgery, or someone who needs caring help with the activities of daily living, their capable nurses and home-care staff will be there.

Operating only in Nova Scotia an Ontario, the VON has 34 employees in Lunenburg County and nine in Queens.

Jennifer Page, PSW, Assisted Living Program, Kingston

How long have you been working with VON?
I have been with VON for almost two years. I work full time as a PSW. 

Why did you choose a career in home care/nursing?
I have been working in healthcare for over ten years now. I worked in a retirement home for the majority of those years, and I thought I loved my job. But, as time went on I knew that there had to be something out there that satisfied me more, and that would help me feel like I was given a purpose in my career. I decided to apply to VON, not realizing this was going to be the best decision of my life. What I love most about homecare is how personal it really is. 

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you or that you could give someone else about providing caring support to clients?
The best piece of advice I have received, and truly allowed it to be applied to my work perspective, is: life is short, don’t take it for granted. I know it sounds simple, but it goes beyond words; in this industry, the connections you make with your clients are extremely sentimental. Something we have to remember is tomorrow is never promised. This advice allows me to make the most of every visit, each and every day. 

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
When I’m not working, my fun usually consists of getting outside, whether that’s taking my dog for a walk or just getting some fresh air. Prior to COVID, I enjoyed traveling and spur-of-the-moment road trips especially with family and friends. In the summer if you can’t reach me, I’ll most likely be by the beach. I also love to cook, and my daughter and I try to dabble with new recipes every now and then…sometimes they can be a fail, but that’s what makes them fun. 

What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done? Do you have any big dreams or goals you’d like to accomplish?
One of the most courageous things I have ever done was leaving my career at the previous facility I worked at to join VON full-time, without knowing what homecare truly had in store for me. A goal that I would love to accomplish would be to travel more and see what the world has to offer. 

Can you think of a time or moment that stands out that brought a smile to your face at work?
I simply could not just pick one moment, it would have to be the daily morning greetings from each of my clients. They always welcome me with “open arms” and big smiles. Every day is not going to be perfect, however knowing that I am there to make a difference serves me more purpose than one moment could ever make up for. 

What do you find is the most rewarding part of your role at VON, or being part of the VON team?
As I have mentioned, VON has truly become the greatest team I have had the pleasure of working for. VON offers an incredible support team that does not go unrecognized and knowing that they have my back at the end of each day is very rewarding. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more content with my career than I do now, working for VON. I didn’t find VON – VON found me.

Ravin Murugan, RN, Lunenburg, NS

Why did you choose a career in nursing?
My mother is a nurse but is now retired. I grew up watching her and I was in awe with how much she is recognized in the community, and how much she cares about people. Mostly, I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

How long have you worked at VON?
I joined VON Lunenburg in February 2018.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you or that you could give someone else about nursing?
Someone once told me "Nursing is never a one-person task, it is teamwork." This is very true, especially when I work alone in the community, this phrase helps me keep my day going. The most frustrating part when you are working alone is not receiving immediate feedback or input from your colleagues during a client visit. But, as long as I am prioritizing the client's needs and work with the team to provide the best client care, that’s the key to being happy and satisfied with my work.  

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
I own a photography business called Ravin Photography (www.ravinphotography.ca). I also have a 3D printer, and I’m a Certified Drone Pilot, which allows me to take aerial landscape photos.

Can you think of a time or moment that stands out that brought a smile to your face at work?
This is a difficult question to answer as I have many days that have brought a smile. For example, there have been times when my fellow nurses have checked on me before going home, or when I’ve received an email from a manager saying thank you for my work, or when I have a bad day but can crack a joke with the CSAs and it eases my mind...I can add a lot to the list. :)

What do you find is the most rewarding part about being a nurse?
Being a community nurse is awesome. I feel so close to the community and the people, who share their life experiences while receiving care. I like leaving them with a big smile on their face when it’s time for me to go. I also value job satisfaction and a perfect work life balance – I am only 80% part-time. 

More about Ravin’s journey toward becoming a nurse 

I was aware of nursing when I was 10. My mom worked as a nurse in a primary health centre in India. I used to go with her when I was a kid and help her in the pharmacy to cut the pills. Everyone knows me in my hometown because of my mother. 

After 12th grade, I wanted to become a doctor but India has Caste system, so I did not receive admission for medicine. We also have a counselling system, so I applied for BSc Nursing, but it was full already. Indian culture is different; we can't just stay in the home after schooling. People will think something is wrong – there’s a stigma.

So, I joined electronics and instrumentation engineering per my uncle's advice, which I quit after six months due to financial reasons. I had wasted eight months already, so the next option was a Diploma in Nursing which was a three-year course, consisting of two days of classes, four days of clinical, and one day off per week. It was very intense training.  

I graduated in 2009 with a big dream of coming to Canada to work, but my aunt, who is an RN in Toronto, advised me to get some experience before I came over. I was so lucky to get selected for Cardiac OR in India. It was a really big deal to get hired as a new nurse in the OR, and I worked there for a year and a half. During that time, Canada changed the rules and it was mandatory to have a BSc to become an RN. So I started the two-year BScN (Post Basic) and completed it in 2011.

The fastest way to come to Canada is to come as a student, and I love learning. I completed post-graduate certification courses, Critical Care Nursing, Gerontology, and Chronic Illness. Then, I waited two and a half years to receive eligibility to write the Canadian Registered Nursing exam. It was then replaced by a National Council Licensure Examination (“NCLEX”), but I didn't give up. It was my dream to be here and the only way I could do it was by passing the NCLEX exam. I passed in my first attempt. 

In Ontario it's hard to get a full-time job as a new nurse without having any references. Most of the employers will not support nominee programs, so I moved to Nova Scotia and obtained my permanent residency status in 2017. Looking back at my life since being in Nova Scotia, early on I worked at a gas station on Bayers Road in Halifax, right outside the VON Greater Halifax office. Wow....and now, I am part of our VON family. :)

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