The Ongoing March at Fairview Nursing Home

Residents’ council president shares insights on changes in her home

By Kristian Partington

In the post-recovery aftermath of a car accident, Sylvia Udale-Clough found herself in a new home – one she says she never expected. Though she’s still only in her 60s, Fairview Nursing Home in downtown Toronto’s east end has been her home for six years and in that time, she’s seen a number of changes – most of them from her position as president of the home’s residents’ council.

The home is unique, Sylvia points out, and it faces unique challenges. Many of her fellow residents are of similar age to her representing a much younger population than is typical in average Ontario long-term care homes. And their needs are quite complex. Whereas in more typical long-term care homes, an older population of residents live with chronic conditions associated with age, such as heart failure or dementia. Her fellow residents at Fairview are approximately 20 years younger than the average age in Ontario long-term care homes, however, and many are living with complex mental health illnesses, on top of physical challenges.

Structurally, the home has also seen a series of transitions since she Sylvia first moved in. The original owners ceded control to ministry-appointed caretakers a few years back and in the spring of 2015, the home became part of the Schlegel Villages family. Through it all, Sylvia has been an advocate for her fellow residents, a role she has always approached with a businesslike mind, honed and developed on Bay St during a career with TD Bank.

When she first sat as president of the council it was because the home was lacking in many areas. “I was appalled at things that needed improvement around here and the fact that most people were unable to advocate for themselves,” Sylvia says. “They were issues that affected everybody.”

There was no washroom for residents on the main floor, for example, and no automatic, accessible front door. “I was shocked at that. When I arrived from Toronto rehab after a year there, I couldn’t get in the front door.”

“I realized that we needed someone to stand up for our rights.”

In her early days, the council meetings were, in many respects, treated as opportunities to complain by most attendees. In the last 18 months, however, she’s noticed a significant turnaround.

“Instead of complaining about things we started suggesting how we could improve things,” Sylvia says. “People began to realize they could have a say in the running of the home . . . and we want residents to be involved.”

Communication, she says, is the key to making this work and she’s happy to have a direct link to general manager Saurabh Bhatnagar, whose door is always open. She points out that he didn’t come to the position from a clinical perspective, as other administrators in the past did. His perspective is not that the home is a health centre, she says, “it’s now a living centre and that’s a big improvement.”

The leadership team all carries that perspective and the home continues to grow stronger as team members and residents work together to make it so.