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Home care turns 40

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

BY ARLENE WILGOSH
Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, September / October 2014

Arlene Wilgosh
Arlene Wilgosh

Few things capture the essence of home care quite as powerfully as the image on the cover of this issue of Wave.

The photograph (which you can see at the bottom of this letter) was taken to help illustrate a special report in this issue marking the 40th anniversary of home care in Manitoba.

It shows a smiling nurse Jodi Brown holding a happy - and cute - little guy by the name of Kaysen Campeau, who is a client of one of our home care programs.

It is evident from the photo that Brown has built a warm and caring relationship with her young charge. Kaysen’s story illustrates just how important that relationship can be.

The 21-month-old child has had a tough start in life. He was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, as well as a hole in his heart, and spent the first year of his life in hospital.

Fortunately, he is now able to live at home. That’s due in large measure to the fact that his mom, Monica Campeau, has learned how to take care of her son’s special needs. But it is also because she was able to access needed care. Three times a week, for example, Brown or one of the other respite nurses from the Winnipeg Health Region will drop in to give Monica a much-needed opportunity to take care of her other obligations, including caring for her other children.

Kaysen’s story is just one of several you will find in our special report, which begins on page 37. As you read through the report, you will quickly discover that home care is an integral part of the health-care system, a service that makes it possible for thousands of Manitobans to live in the familiar environment of their own homes, surrounded by friends and loved ones.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. The modern age of home care actually has a relatively short history. True, some form of home care can be traced back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. And it is also true that privately run organizations, such as the Victorian Order of Nurses, did provide a high degree of care in the home for much of the last century.

But the idea of home care as a comprehensive, publicly funded program available to acute-care patients as well as the elderly did not really become a reality until the early 1970s. And even then, it is not at all clear that anyone - with the exception of those involved in its conception and development - understood just how innovative this new program was or how important it would become.

As our special report notes, the modern age of home care in this province started with the launch of the Office of Continuing Care on Sept. 1, 1974, a move that paved the way for the development of the first home-care program of its kind in Canada.

Of course, the story of home care is more than just an account of the development of a health-care service. It is also a tale that reflects the values of the people of Manitoba.

Manitobans have always been an idealistic yet pragmatic lot. And the creation of home care is a prime example of these two ideals coming together.

As our special report points out, many people working in health care in the 1970s understood that changing demographics would lead to the need for some form of care to support an aging population. At the time, people who could not live on their own often found their way onto the waiting lists of personal-care homes. But placement in a home was an expensive solution to a problem that would only grow in the years to come.

With necessity being the mother of invention, the health-care planners of the day decided that home care would not only better serve the individuals in question in terms of their overall health and well-being, it would also help control costs.

Perhaps Evelyn Shapiro, the first Director of the Office of Continuing Care, put it best when the Winnipeg Free Press reported her as saying that it was better to spend $5 once a week for a homemaker rather than use a full-time nursing home-care bed at $19 a day when it isn’t even needed.

Despite its obvious advantages, the home-care program started life as a relatively small operation. According to a report in the Free Press about two months after the office opened for business, it had 137 employees, including four public health nurses, four social workers and 125 part-time homemakers, and was just beginning to develop a client list. By comparison, today’s home-care program employs about 4,200 workers and serves an average of 15,000 clients a month.

Yet the dramatic growth of home care over the years is only part of the story. While the program still provides the basic personal care and household services it did in the early 1970s, it has also become more complex, developing the new expertise required to take on clients with a wide range of ailments and afflictions. Yet despite the growth, the increasing complexity and the advances in technology, the true value of the home-care program remains what it has always been: the people like nurse Jodi Brown who come to work every day motivated to provide the best care they can to people in need.

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of home care in Manitoba, I would like to thank each and every one of them for their dedication and hard work. As the photograph on this page suggests, the efforts they make to build warm and caring relationships with their clients are absolutely critical to the success of our mission to provide the best care possible.

Wave

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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