By Matthew Liebenberg
Southwest Homes continued to empower people and strengthen lives during a challenging year of adapting to the pandemic situation.
The organization’s annual report for April 2021 to March 2022 provides a glimpse into the activities carried out to support and empower individuals with an intellectual disability.
Leah McDonald Perrault, who has been the executive director at Southwest Homes since March 2021, told the Prairie Post the fluctuating pandemic situation was a significant factor.
“The limitations due to the pandemic posed our biggest challenges, both in terms of the participant’s quality of life and in terms of the challenges of running an organization.,” she said. “We were very lucky that COVID didn’t really hit our organization until the winter of 2022 in any significant way. So while we were dealing with all of the fallout of COVID restrictions, we didn’t have to deal with COVID itself until 2022 and the effects have been minimal, other than having to stay home a little extra. We have been very lucky not to have any more serious implications from COVID and we’re grateful for that.”
Visitor restrictions at group homes had an impact on connections with relatives and friends, and day program activities were only gradually resuming during 2021. She therefore felt the most significant highlight of the past year was the easing of COVID-19 related public health measures.
“A huge part of it was just being able to return,” she said. “Even if it was in smaller cohorts, even if we had to wear masks, to be able to leave our households again and to reconnect, because people in our residential program live in a household with roommates. They just didn’t have as much access to and physical connection with their families as they want and need to have to thrive.”
Those relaxed measures made it possible for group home residents to reconnect with family and to be back out in the community. It was an opportunity for staff to return to work, because some work programs were limited during those COVID measures.
Southwest Homes is a community-based organization in Swift Current that offers residential and day program supports to people with intellectual disabilities. There are eight group homes in the city that provide accommodation for 27 individuals. Perrault said there is an occasional vacancy, but these homes are usually full or nearly full.
Southwest Homes also offers a day program that provides vocational and quality of life opportunities. The number of participants in the program fluctuates, and it can range from 20 to 32 individuals.
“People apply to the day program when they may need additional stimulation, they may be looking to earn some money and do some work, or they may live in a situation where there isn’t anyone to care for them during the day,” she explained. “In collaboration with the community support worker through the Community Living Division of Social Services, people make applications for day program funding and that process is the same, whether people live at home with family members or in private places or in group homes.”
Another service offered by Southwest Homes is support for individuals to live more independently in the community. The organization currently supports 23 individuals in the supported independent living program.
“We have an apartment building and people live on their own, and we support people in that building and in any independent living who applies through the program with any supports that they might need to be able to make living independently manageable,” she said. “So anything from cooking, cleaning supports, assisting people with planning meals or getting groceries, getting and consistently taking medication, mental health and resilience support.”
Southwest Homes follows a person-centred approach to the care and services provided to individuals with an intellectual disability.
“Our aim is to provide individuals with diverse abilities the opportunity to live fully in their community and achieve their goals,” she said. “So we’re trying to give people as many choices as anybody else would have in society.”
The organization currently employs 85 direct support professionals, who are the frontline caregivers, and 15 administrative team members.
“We’re always looking for people, especially in light of the labour shortages inspired by COVID, and we’re looking for people who really enjoy living,” she said. “Lots of people get into this work because they’re interested in caring professions and we certainly need that, but we need them to be really passionate about people having a high quality of life.”
She noted that the care provided by staff is not only focused on the physical needs of a person, such as bathing, dressing and grooming.
“That’s really just the baseline of care for us,” she said. “What really makes a difference for people living with intellectual disabilities is that they don’t just want to get up and get through each day. They want to enjoy each day and they need help to do that. So the next level of care, the employees who really shine in our organization, are the ones who are really passionate about making ordinary days extraordinary.”
Southwest Homes has been looking at ways to address the labour challenge with a goal to attract and retain staff. The success of these measures will only become evident over time.
“We’re trying to spend more time and energy on orientation and training for staff so that they feel well supported when they’re here,” she said. “We’re constantly working to maintain and strengthen the culture in our workplace so that people know they’re coming to work in a wonderful place where they get to work with wonderful people and know that they will be appreciated by their employer. We’re trying to engage with potential folks so that they have an accurate picture of what working with us looks like, and to ensure that their day-to-day work is positive and fun.”
The organization experienced various leadership changes between 2019 and 2021, and one of the goals during the past year was to focus on strategic planning.
“When I arrived, I found an organization that had a lot of energy for and a readiness for where we’re going,” Perrault mentioned. “Now that our leadership is hopefully stabilized, what is it that we’re trying to accomplish. As we have walked through the first phase in 2021 and now phase two in 2022, we’re ready to set out our three-to-five-year goals to move together into this next stage.”
The intention of this process is to refocus and strengthen the programming provided to individuals, as well as to look at revenue stabilization and growth.
“We are looking to increase our community presence and engagement,” she said. “Any time that there’s lots of transition in an organization, you can see a reduction in the external engagements and we’re ready to be more involved again in the community more broadly.”
Southwest Homes recently launched the Share my Story fundraising campaign with a goal to raise $24,000 to purchase MyCompass software. It will allow individuals within Southwest Homes programs to share information with family, friends and staff in a secure online forum.
“It’s an opportunity to contribute to a software system that will allow us to more effectively plan with our participants and allows them to share their stories with the people that they choose,” she said about the fundraising campaign.
The campaign will continue until the goal is reached. Donations can be made online by clicking on the donations tab on the Southwest Homes website (www.sw-homes.ca) or by calling the Southwest Homes administration office at 306-773-7765.