Elaine Unsworth (BSN ’94, MSN ’99)

Elaine Unsworth, UBC School of Nursing Adjunct Professor, is a clinical nurse specialist in Geriatric Mental Health with Providence Health Care and shares the story of four male residents in Holy Family Hospital who wanted a cat. Instead of refusing the request, the clinical nurse leaders brought the residents and their families together to discuss how having a pet might work. Holy Family Hospital is now home to a loving cat. In fact, the five care homes within Providence Health are homes to six cats and some birds. “We have to start asking ‘why not?’” says Elaine, who is one of a dynamic team at Providence Health working with the Eden Philosophy of Care, created by Dr. Bill Thomas and adopted almost three years ago. “The Philosophy looks at how we provide care and treat people who live in our care homes, and how we make them pleasant homes in which to live,” says Elaine, who played a key role in establishing the standards and creating the staff model. The three plagues of residential care facilities that the Eden Philosophy says contribute to suffering are helplessness, loneliness and boredom, and it offers 10 principles to counteract them.*

There have been many changes over the last few years at Providence Health residential care facilities—all working toward deinstitutionalization. Prepackaging medications means they can be delivered to stable elders by care aides which frees up RNs to do more specialized care. More care aides means more individual care for residents and more opportunity for residents to be involved in care decisions. Expanded communication channels help staff on various shifts know the details of each person living in the facility. “The staff do a great job at providing care the way the residents want it,” says Elaine. “I hope when I move in I’ll be able to have a coffee in my room when I wake up and have a bath at night.”

During her undergraduate studies, Elaine took an elective in mental health. During her first job, she was introduced to the geriatric population. Although she was concerned that this cohort might not be very stimulating, she learned otherwise and not only loved it but chose this area to pursue in her master’s program. She continues to thrive on the challenges of bio-psycho-social geriatric care. Today she enjoys the challenge that the model will be ever-changing as residents change, staff change and individual needs play into the daily mix. “I love doing this work,” she says. “It’s so important that we respect elders and what they want, and as we move toward providing individualized care, it’s exciting and rewarding to see people still growing and developing, even well into their 90s!” However, Elaine cautions that in order to keep this ball rolling there will have to be more proactive marketing done to advocate for senior care as most people are not exposed to senior care until a loved one experiences it. “I wish we could offer opportunities for everyone to talk with someone in their own language every day, and have more choices—like having a bath when they wanted and eating the food they want. We need to focus on the fact that we work in the residents’ homes, that they don’t just live where we work.”

As Elaine continues to discover the gifts that seniors can offer her, the School continues to celebrate its alumnae and members of its faculty for the heartfelt work they do to improve the care for all those in need.