Hiring for Heart: Unearthing the Talents of Team Members who Answered Pandemic’s Call

One of the great challenges faced by those who provide care and support for Ontario’s aging population is ensuring there are enough high quality, dedicated team members available. In the past 20 months, the urgent staffing needs in long-term care and retirement settings were exacerbated as COVID-19 placed immense pressure on the entire sector. Very few homes were spared this struggle and under emergency orders, the province expanded the scope of definition to create opportunities for people with the right heart but not necessarily the right experience to fill the great void COVID-19 presented.

Despite the hardships we have faced, we know there are many silver linings to the pandemic when we take time to consider them, and the discovery of talented, compassionate new team members who joined our Villages as “Basic Care Aides” or “Resident Support Partners” has been an immense benefit.

At Hamilton Continuing Care, we connected with two of these wonderful individuals. Here is the first of two stories:

Heather Livingston joined the small home in the heart of Hamilton within a month of the emergency orders locking the province down in the spring of 2020. Her background is varied, but whether in her role as a volunteer firefighter or as a sales account manager in her family’s business, a focus on people and a desire to meet their every need has always underscored Heather’s approach to relationships.  

When Heather answered the call to work in long-term care, she found a new sense of satisfaction through the relationships she has built with residents. 
When Heather answered the call to work in long-term care,
she found a new sense of satisfaction through
the relationships she has built with residents. 

“I’ve always had a passion for nurturing and caring for people,” Heather says. “I always wanted to be in a setting where I was doing that; I got a little bit back and some satisfaction in sales, but in some of the other roles I was doing, I didn’t feel that it was fulfilling me.”

When she saw the desperate need in the long-term care sector as the early stages of the pandemic unfolded, she wanted to help.

“I just felt the calling,” she says. “I had little certification – absolutely bare bones – but I took a risk on a call for help and I figured I would try.”

In the midst of the most challenging health crisis in a century, Heather learned day-by-day and she took on any role that was asked of her, always with a focus on doing all she could to support the well-being of residents. She worked in laundry and was a screener, a security guard, housekeeper and food services specialist. There were no visitors allowed for so long, which meant that the team was the sole source of comfort and social interaction for residents during the darkest of days, and Heather took that fact seriously. Perhaps one of her most important roles has been that of a caring heart and open ear for residents, and in that she has thrived.

“These amazing people have answered the state of emergency and come into long-term care with no pre-training and just brought the talents that they have,” says Hamilton Continuing Care’s general manager Kelly Younger, “and the talent is rich. We’ve had the most complex working conditions anyone could ever be thrown into and these team members stayed, cared for the residents, brought them quality-of-life and made them feel safe.”

When Kelly considers Heather and some of the others who recently joined the HCC family, she says it’s easy to see what happens when a home hires for heart, knowing the rest of the skills can be taught and certifications can be attained with the home’s support.

Heather was hired as a basic care aide at the beginning of the pandemic and as of late October, 2021, she is a fully-trained Personal Support Worker proudly serving the residents of HCC, and she says her life is so much fuller as a result.  

“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” she says.

At a time when organizations and decision-makers are trying to address the acute challenges staffing presents in the Long-Term Care sector, Heather is an example of how hiring for heart in a basic aide position can strengthen a home and provide stability for residents. It is this type of commitment and heart that will see us into the future.