Combs, toothpaste and dignity: Care kits help elderly patients during their stay at JGH

Emanuela Ciarlelli (left), Head Nurse in Orthopedic Surgery, and Karine Lepage (right), Interim Clinical Administrative Coordinator in Surgical Services, share a care kit with Orthopedic Surgery patient Yefkine Chano, age 95
Emanuela Ciarlelli (left), Head Nurse in Orthopedic Surgery, and Karine Lepage (right), Interim Clinical Administrative Coordinator in Surgical Services, share a care kit with Orthopedic Surgery patient Yefkine Chano, age 95

When an 83-year-old woman was recently admitted to the Jewish General Hospital with a hip fracture, nurses called the woman’s daughter to discuss her case. The daughter said she’d be right over, as soon as she could rush to her mother’s home to pick up toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo.

“There’s no need,” said the nurses, who are part of the Orthopedic Surgery team. “We’ve taken care of it.”

By the time the daughter got to her mother’s side, the 83-year-old had been equipped with a kit filled with the essentials for a hospital stay: toothbrush, comb, nail file, lip balm, and more.

These welcome kits were made possible thanks to an initiative of two head nurses from the JGH, and the generosity of dozens of donors.

Late last year, Emanuela Ciarlelli, Head Nurse in Orthopedic Surgery, and Karine Lepage, then Interim Head Nurse in Geriatrics, both independently made a similar observation. Many elderly patients arrived in hospital after a trauma such as a fall, or in a state of disorientation due to a cognitive impairment. In a vulnerable position, they didn’t always have their basic toiletries to see them through a hospital stay.

“We thought it would be nice to give them a little care package to address their needs,” Ms. Ciarlelli says.

Working in tandem, the two decided to try to find a solution. They approached JGH volunteer Diane Levine-Samberg, who in turn reached out to the community for help. In no time, dozens of individual donors and several companies—BethCare Senior Services, Avon Canada, and Maximage—came forward with contributions.

“There’s a lot of good out there. It was so heartwarming and inspirational to me to see how people stepped up to help,” Ms. Levine-Samberg says. “Everyone wanted to do something in these trying times.”

Volunteers spent the day at Carrefour Lea Polansky on Sept. 15 packing about 700 care bags with products such as toothbrushes, combs, lip balm and more
Volunteers spent the day at Carrefour Lea Polansky on Sept. 15 packing about 700 care bags with products such as toothbrushes, combs, lip balm and more

On Sept. 15, volunteers gathered in Carrefour Lea Polansky and spent the day filling about 700 bags with care items, from denture cleaning products to hand cream; the kits have since been distributed to Orthopedic Surgery and Geriatrics. These products do more than provide basic personal care for patients. They also become a tool in giving elderly patients dignity and autonomy, which are key in helping their recovery.

“By brushing their teeth, washing their hair, using Kleenex, it helps them develop and maintain their independence,” says Ms. Lepage, who is now Interim Clinical Administrative Coordinator in Surgical Services. “It brings happiness into their lives, and promotes their autonomy.”

The kits are even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when visitor access to the hospital is limited. Even at regular times, some elderly parents’ children live out of town and can’t readily help.

The nurses, who also obtained funding for the kits from the JGH Users’ Committee, estimated that they have collected enough toiletries to last six months. They hope to extend the project and expand distribution beyond the two departments.

While they may be small care kits, they have made a big difference in patient care, they say. “These kits are not only comforting,” Ms. Ciarlelli says, “but they provide dignity too.”

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