The Westside Health Network Society (WHNS) was launched in November, 1991, and supports seniors in West Kelowna, B.C. In supporting local seniors and their wellness, this non-profit volunteer-based organization has for over 25 years offered information, referral, and education, as well as non-medical support.
WHNS programs range from transportation, visitation, shopping, and yard work, to in-home repairs and shoveling snow. Essentially, this is the Better at Home program for West Kelowna. WHNS also provides a range of programs for seniors such as exercise and health programs designed to keep seniors living independently in their own homes. As Executive Director, Sonia Newman, says “Our programs continue to improve and evolve to meet the changing needs of seniors in the community.”
The program has impacted many involved with WHNS.
“I truly love helping seniors”
“I enjoy being a driver”
Clients who receive friendly phone calls state:
“What a godsend”
“All good, thankfully somebody cares”
What strengths and challenges apply to WHNS?
“Remarkable how the community pulls together in a time of crisis!” Sonia says. “We are looking at this as a time to create improvements to our existing programs. New partnerships have been formed with community partners to ensure that seniors’ needs are met, whether food or medical attention. Deeper communication bonds with seniors and volunteers have been strengthened. Twelve volunteers have been added to the 138 regular volunteers to help support their seniors during COVID. Resources such as Personal Protection Equipment were a challenge to obtain, but thanks to the United Way we were given enough supplies for our volunteers to grocery shop and deliver packages to seniors. Volunteer drivers who agreed to continue to drive did only essential medical drives. As this crisis continues, we are uncertain of future funding, which may present a great challenge.”
What Adaptations have WHNS made during the Covid-19 pandemic?
As one West Kelowna senior has said of this time during COVID -19 “My motto is stay positive!”
Many changes have taken place at WHNS since the onset of Covid-19. To keep their most vulnerable safe, the organization heeds BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s recommendations.
Volunteer Grocery Shopping: Now that seniors can no longer be driven to the stores, volunteers now assist seniors via telephone to do online shopping. The volunteers help to set up grocery delivery systems; family members may do online shopping on behalf of their senior family members; and volunteers may take the seniors’ grocery list over the phone, do the shopping themselves, and deliver them directly to the seniors’ doorstep.
A partnership has been made between WHNS and the Salvation Army in which volunteers from both organizations deliver food hampers and frozen meals directly to seniors in the community. At this point, up to 50 meals per week have been delivered in the West Kelowna area.
Visits and driving to medical appointments: now that physicians no longer have non-essential patient visits in their offices, there are a lot fewer trips being made by volunteers. With proper COVID protocols in place to keep both the senior and volunteer safe, the driving service is still offered to seniors, but only for essential medical appointments.
Friendly phone calls made to the seniors keep WHNS staff and volunteers busy, now amounting to 50 per day, whereas pre-COVID it was half that at 20-25 daily. The seniors have expressed how grateful they are to have received these phone calls while they’ve been staying safely at home. One senior has said “this has been an opportunity to look at this positively...reflect on what life is all about, the kindness of humanity.”
The Community Volunteer Income Tax program has been modified during COVID. What used to be large gatherings at the community hall are now one-on-one telephone assistance calls between volunteers and seniors. The volunteers may also work with the seniors’ tax matters via email.
Better at Home housekeeping services had been suspended at the onset of COVID but have now resumed. Yard work was never cancelled.
The Walk ‘n Talk program has been postponed with hopes to resume in September. This is a wellness program aimed at improving physical activity, falls prevention, increasing independence, as well as alleviating social isolation. Held twice per week, the group starts with a 45 minute osteofit exercise followed by a 30 minute walk either inside or outside. Following the exercise component, a healthy lifestyle discussion is led by a local member of the community (program facilitator, local university faculty, students or professionals). In September, the number of attendees will be smaller and by having two classes instead of one, more people may be accommodated. Safety plans for this program have been submitted to the City of West Kelowna, which owns the hall.
WHNS staffing changed by having one staff member working in the office without any visitors allowed and the other staff member worked remotely from home.
As the Executive Director says of her work at WHNS “it has been a privilege to help those most vulnerable at this unpredictable time”.