Providing compassionate care to seniors in Vancouver for over 50 years, the German-Canadian Care Home is part of the German-Canadian Benevolent Society of BC, which operates and supports the home to enrich the lives of its residents.
Jutta Purchase has been with the German-Canadian Benevolent Society of BC for 28 years and has been CEO for the past 17. Her focus has been on the redevelopment of the existing care home buildings and the transformation of the care and service model of the home. As an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and health care industry, she has strong skills in Non-Profit Organizations, Healthcare Consulting, Customer Service, Coaching, and Strategic Planning. Jutta spoke with us recently about the origins of the German-Canadian Care Home, the current plans for a redevelopment of the facility and ethos, and the concept of ‘Comfortzeit®’ that defines the care home’s innovative new approach to elder care.
The German-Canadian Benevolent Society
“The story of the German-Canadian care home began in 1965,” Jutta explains, “when a group of German immigrants founded the German-Canadian Benevolent Society, with the goal of building a care home for seniors in Vancouver.”
The goal was achieved in a relatively short period of time, and by 1969 the doors of the German-Canadian Care Home had opened to its first residents. The care home initially operated as a private care home for mostly German immigrants.
“The care home operated until 1978, when the society decided to join the provincial long term care program, and this was an economic decision that resulted in some more stability around funding for the operations and occupancy as well.”
From that point forward, the residents of the care home were admitted by the regional health authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, which meant that the population became more multicultural. Today, the home has 132 residents, speaking 16 different languages.
“Throughout the years, the care home has undergone many renovations to adapt to the increase in care needs of our residents. For example, we widened doorways to rooms, installed ceiling lifts in resident rooms, and we enlarged the dining rooms to accommodate residents who were using wheelchairs.”
The care home employs around 200 staff, including care aids, nurses, support services – including food services, housekeeping and laundry – a recreation team, physical and occupational therapists, rehabilitation aids, maintenance team, and leadership team.
“Then there is the leadership team, which runs the operations and manage the operations. I am the CEO, and I report to a Board of Directors, and that is a group of volunteers coming from different backgrounds.”
The care home provides a number of different services to residents, primarily assistance with daily living, as well as nursing and clinical care. The home takes care of everything the residents need in their daily life.
“We also get quite a bit of support from families, who come and visit and socialize with residents, and about 80 volunteers who come in and visit residents and help with events and activities and so on.”
The Comfortzeit® approach
The company’s concept of ‘Comfortzeit®’ describes the state of being it aims to achieve for residents, an overall sense of comfort at this stage in their lives. It is a key concept in the overall delivery of the care home’s services.
“‘Zeit’ is the German word for time,” Jutta explains, “and Comfortzeit® is the name of our care model. The name describes the focus of all our activities. That includes care and services, staffing model, and the environment and the design.”
This concept is essentially a shift in focus from the medical, which usually involves determining what is best for the resident, into a more social and humanistic view putting the emphasis on making the resident comfortable.
“This model of care was developed in conjunction with our redevelopment plans for a new care home, and we have not been able to fully implement it yet, because we are still in our existing building. It is a shift from how we used to do things to how we want to do things.”
The staffing model in a traditional care home includes departments that provides a specific service. In the Comfortzeit® model, a multi-skilled staff works much more as one team, providing a number of different services to residents.
“This is made possible by a different environment, where residents live in households, in a small unit with a small number of residents that has a kitchen, laundry facilities, and staff in the houses providing services. It’s different from the traditional model, where you have a centralized operation. We’re moving the staff into the households, closer to the residents.”
The German-Canadian care home has always had a desire to innovate, since its beginnings in 1969. Early on they participated in a pilot project to move residents suffering from dementia into a regular care home alongside seniors.
“This was new at the time, but it’s now common practice. Currently about half of our resident population is living with dementia. The German-Canadian Care Home has always wanted to learn from others, and we were the first long term care home in BC to seek the national accreditation award, and we’ve maintained that since 1978.”
The care home constantly looks for opportunities to put new learnings into action, and has been moving towards a social model of care. A staff team has been set up that works towards identifying institutional barriers to care. A deliberate and methodical approach to doing things separates German-Canadian Care Home from many of its competitors.
“In working towards a complete redevelopment of the care home, the board and leadership team decided they would develop the vision for the care home and the care model first before designing the building, so form would follow function.”
Redeveloping the care home
The German-Canadian Care Home has been working on its new vision for a care home for almost a decade, and the project is currently waiting for final approval. Jutta admits it is a very exciting time for the business.
“It started about 10 years ago,” she says, “when the board and leadership realized that the buildings were getting older. The care home had gone through numerous renovations, but it came to a point where we realized that further renovations were no longer possible. We’d really maximized everything we could do with the existing buildings.”
The decision was made to work towards a new development. A great deal of time was put into researching innovative care models in Asia, Australia and Europe, including visits to some care homes that had come to the leadership team’s attention for implementing innovative care models.
“Out of all this learning we created a vision for the building design and for the operational model. One of our challenges was that we are in Vancouver, an urban center, and a lot of these innovative care homes that had implemented a village or small house model were in rural areas and had built little houses that were connected on a large property.”
This system was not possible for German-Canadian Care Home, and so the leadership team needed to find an example that was similar to its environmental circumstances. They found this in Europe, where a so-called ‘Vertical Village’ had been built.
“It was a multi-storey building, and they had these households integrated into this multi-storey building. That was very inspirational to us, and so the design for the new care home evolved.”
In 2016, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a request for proposal for the development of new care homes, and German-Canadian Care Home was successful in negotiating an agreement, which was signed at the end of that year.
“Unfortunately the planning was paused during Covid, but resumed shortly after. At that point we had to revise and update some of the design and cost for the project. That’s completed now, and we are just waiting to get the final approval from the health authority.”
The biggest challenge for the last year has been staff shortages, making it difficult for the care home to recruit professional staff such as nurses. After losing significant staff numbers during the pandemic, the need to add to staff has been high.
“The other part is staff burnout. The staff who are still here work incredible hours, lots of overtime, and that is occasionally leading to staff burnout. That is currently the one issue that is impacting us most and has led to a number of other challenges.”
Long term care is and will continue to be a much needed service. Residents who come to the care home are at a point where they desperately need this level of support, and they deserve to feel comfortable and respected in this stage of their lives.
“The commitment and dedication of staff who work in long term care is really extraordinary,” Jutta concludes, “and it’s the relationships that staff have with residents that makes working in long term care a really rewarding experience.”
The German-Canadian Care Home excels in offering those in long term care an environment that is comfortable and enjoyable and offers them some independence during the later years of their life. Find out more about German-Canadian Care Home by visiting www.gcch.ca.