Thembalami’s journey of transformation

by antoinette pombo
April 18, 2019

The transformation at Rand Aid’s Thembalami Care Centre over the past decade is remarkable, says residents, staff members and residents’ family members.

Housed in a huge building on 2.3 hectares of ground in Lombardy East just outside of Johannesburg, the once

Come walk awhile… Thembalami Care Centre’s food garden is interspersed with paved walking paths

rundown building is today bright and welcoming. The changes are more than physical, however, with the residents happier and more interactive than they were in previous years.

“Moving into a care centre often leaves elders depressed and without purpose. Many go into isolation, staying in their rooms and spurning organised activities. Often, elders face massive budget challenges, with social grants the only income for many, and this adds to their anxiety,” says Thembalami manager Elize Raath.

“When Thembalami was moved to the newly acquired Lombard East property in 2008, the building was fairly dilapidated and the environment did nothing to lift the spirits of our more vulnerable residents,” says Elize.

However, the buildings, entrance and grounds have been totally overhauled and today the care centre is modern, beautifully maintained and very inviting.

Around 120 people live in the centre, which also accommodates the Max Ordman Deaf Association.

Coinciding with the renovations was the introduction of the Eden Alternative Philosophy to the care centre.

The dam that lies beyond Thembalami’s food garden, as viewed from the birdhide.

The Eden Alternative aims to redesign the experience of ageing around the world by de-institutionalising the culture and environment of care centres. The core belief is that ageing should be a continued stage of development and growth, rather than a period of decline.

It favours people-centred care and warm inviting spaces that encourage residents to live fully and with as much independence as possible, rather than the medical approach traditionally used.

The belief is that all changes need to come from the bottom up – the staff and the residents needs to be involved in making decisions because they are the people who live and work at the care centres.

To this end, a residents committee is in place to give all residents a platform to voice concerns or suggestions.

In 2016, Rand Aid’s Ron Smith Care Centre became the second care centre in Africa to receive Eden Alternative registration and since then, the philosophy of people-centred care is being rolled out across all Rand Aid complexes.

Thembalami grounds assistant Amon Maluleke in the birdhide that overlooks the dam.

At Thembalami, a cross-section of all levels of staff have received formal Eden Alternative training, from kitchen personnel, to members of the nursing staff and management.

The heightened awareness of residents as individuals with their own likes and dislikes and the realisation that they need to be viewed as people rather than patients has resulted in a new approach to the staff’s dealings with residents.

Today, there is a greater sense of community at Thembalami, with the majority of residents happily taking part in activities and eagerly attending events. There is more interaction between residents an increase in resident-initiated socials.

“A person’s surroundings impact their frame of mind,” says Rand Aid CEO Rae Brown, “and we are proud to have been in a position to transform Thembalami into an uplifting environment.”

“There is a new sense of pride among residents and staff,” says Elize. “People whose loved ones live at Thembalami are happy to refer us to their friends and often remark on the cleanliness and homey smells they experience when visiting.”

Kitchen staff Jane Lekhuwane, Dinah Moichela, Miriam Tshikonwane, Albertina Mdewuka, Jeanette Constable and Queen Moyaha discuss what changes they can make to improve residents’ dining experience.

The centre has a large food garden, a dam with viewing benches, outdoor lapas and walking paths, all of which make for enjoyable visits by family members and friends.

“There is always something going on, be it a games session, a special tea or garden walk and that helps the residents combat one of the plagues of ageing – boredom. I remember a while ago we had a resident who would walk to the nurses’ station most days to complain about a sore stomach. Eventually we realised that boredom was making her anxious and after encouraging her to join in the various activities, her ‘stomach pains’ disappeared,” says Elize.

Resident Tony O’Shea remembers how daunting it was to move into a care centre. “You feel displaced and everything is strange,” he says. To lessen the angst for newcomers, he and fellow residents Aiden Muthukrishna and Heather Abrams are putting a system in place to make new residents feel at home and welcome.

The initiative will see newcomers being given a printed welcome letter with essential information and being introduced to all residents during their first meal. Tony says that he is happy to meet new residents at the door to help smooth the transition they are making.

Residents Tony O’Shea, Heather Abrams and Aiden Muthukrishna chat about plans to make new residents feel more welcome.

Kitchen worker Jane Lekhuwane recently underwent Eden Alternative training and says she and her colleagues will interact more with residents to make their dining experience more pleasurable. “We will establish, for instance, if a resident prefers a larger or smaller portion,” says Jane.

“We would like to make fresh scones for the residents’ tea once in a while, using eggs from the Thembalami chickens,” says Jane.

Members of the nursing staff, under Matron Paulina Namo, say their Eden Alternative training has made them realise that they need to listen more to residents, be it to what residents say or what their actions say.

They say that a resident from their dementia unit would bang her spoon on the table at mealtimes and not eat until they discovered that she dislikes stainless steel cutlery but will happily feed herself using coloured utensils. “When you care and pay attention, you can better understand what a resident wants, even if they are unable to speak,” says the matron.

Enrolled nurse auxiliary Maria Matlou says that those residents who need assistance showering can now indicate which time of the day they prefer to shower and as far as possible, they will be accommodated. “We can work more around residents’ wishes,” she says.

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