Fifty may be the new thirty for some of us. But for those living with serious, chronic mental health challenges, the opposite is often the case.
Factors like long-term medication use, hygiene challenges, and the impact of poverty can speed the aging process for those struggling with their mental health and lead to other health problems that can complicate their care. Research has shown that life expectancy can be 10 to 15 years shorter for those with a major mental illness.
Victory House is a licensed mental health housing facility caring for 48 residents and is one of the largest of such community-based housing options with round-the-clock staffing in Metro Vancouver. To address the needs of residents as they age we have increased the amount of personal care we offer. Regular on-site access to services of a dentist, podiatrist and dietician, for example, has meant better overall physical health for the residents who call Victory House home. They can age in place longer without the need to be transferred to an extended care facility.
St. James mental health workers participated in in-service training about a year ago to update their care skills so that they can help residents with things that might seem minor to the general population but can lead to serious health problems for our residents. A skin condition, for example, will be treated by in-house nurses and monitored by mental health workers to ensure it improves and does not lead to further complications.
At dinner, two seating times are now offered so residents can be more closely monitored for issues like choking, and to make sure they get the nutrition they need.
St. James has adopted a case management model in its mental health housing programs, which means working closely with other community agencies to address multiple needs of residents. In some cases, Vancouver Coastal Health has supplemented what Victory House can provide so that residents can remain at Victory House. If they’ve lived here 20 years, it’s their home. We don’t want to move them along.
The case management model of care, well trained and skilled staff, and collaboration and support from community partners ensures that our residents have the best chance of staying in the place they call home even as their care needs become more complex with age.