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'Small things can be so rewarding': Mother and daughter continuing care assistants talk about life on the job

Carmen Surette and her daughter Heidi, who both work as continuing care assistants at Nakile Home for Special Care in Yarmouth County spend some time with resident Annie Ostergaard. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Carmen Surette and her daughter Heidi, who both work as continuing care assistants at Nakile Home for Special Care in Yarmouth County spend some time with resident Annie Ostergaard. TINA COMEAU PHOTO - Tina Comeau
YARMOUTH, N.S. —

Heidi Surette says growing up she’d listen to the stories that her mother Carmen shared when she got home from work.
Even on bad days, or on difficult days, her mother always described them as rewarding days. 
Over time these weren’t just stories the mother and daughter from Abram’s River, Yarmouth County shared. They became experiences they shared too.
Carmen and Heidi Surette are both continuing care assistants (CCAs) at Nakile Home for Special Care in Yarmouth County. Carmen has been working here for 21 years. Heidi has been a CCA here for two years, and before that worked a few years in the kitchen.
But as a kid she often tagged along with her mom to Nakile. In school she also did co-op placements here.
Heidi says she always knew one day she would follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“Mom would come home and would talk about how rewarding it is,” she says. “I always figured this is what I wanted to do.”
October is Continuing Care Month in Nova Scotia with the theme: Your Home, Our Passion. The week of Oct. 13-19 is designated as CCA Week.
“This week is intended to highlight their dedication and commitment to care and showcase that continuing care is becoming a specialty field of work,” explains Gail Kaiser, administrator at Nakile Home for Special Care. She says long-term care facilities are hosting events throughout the week to showcase employees. 
There is also a twitter campaign with the hashtag #sharethecare.
“The focus is on sharing stories about the great work being done by the thousands of long-term care workers in Nova Scotia every day,” Kaiser says.
Carmen Surette says some days on the job can be difficult, depending on circumstances. And you're caring for people who have dementia and Alzheimer's.
“But by the end of the day there is always that one resident that will give you that smile or that thank you that will just change it and makes the day perfect,” she says.
Of course, dealing with an aged population in a seniors' long-term care facility brings about another grim reality, and that is the people you care for die. That, says Carmen, is difficult.
“It’s very hard, and you also have to deal with the family members as well,” she says. “Sometimes we’re there to hold their hand. We pray with them. We comfort the family. It’s very hard sometimes.”
The mother and daughter say you get attached to residents. You’re almost, in a sense, an extension of their family. And you’re responsible for aspects of their care throughout the day. In the morning you get them up, washed up and help to dress them. There are toileting schedules. Breakfast, lunch and supper schedules. Times during the day when the residents need to nap or sleep. Need to get washed up again. Time to unwind. And there is also time during the day for pampering: nails, hair, etc.
And sometimes it’s just a comforting ear, a friendly smile or their time that it shared.

Lots of smiles and laughter and back-and-forth admiration as Carmen Surette and her daughter Heidi, who both work as continuing care assistants at Nakile Home for Special Care in Yarmouth County, spend some time with resident Annie Ostergaard. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Lots of smiles and laughter and back-and-forth admiration as Carmen Surette and her daughter Heidi, who both work as continuing care assistants at Nakile Home for Special Care in Yarmouth County, spend some time with resident Annie Ostergaard. TINA COMEAU PHOTO


“If you’re willing to help somebody else and give to others, this is the job,” Carmen says. “But if you’re just here for the money it can be hard, because it can be stressful.”
Still, there are those rewards.
“You could have a busy shift, or nothing seems to be going okay but you’ve got that one resident that’s going to smile at you or they remember you. That means a lot.” Heidi says. “Small things can be so rewarding.”
And there are other meaningful interactions. 
“There was an elderly lady here once and she had two boys. She always wanted a girl. She was in her late 90s. We were her girls, and that was what she always wanted,” Carmen says. “We loved her. There are some residents that you really have a connection with.”
You can see that connection when the mother and daughter interact with Nakile resident Annie Ostergaard. She calls the mother and daughter “adorable.”
“And I mean that. They take good care of me,” she says. Having lived in Copenhagen and in other parts of Canada, she feels at home at the Nakile facility, which looks after 48 residents in long-term care. 
When the three spend time together there are lots of smiles and laughter, including when Carmen tells the reporter present how old Annie is.
“Ssshhh!” Annie says, playfully scolding Carmen. “You’re not supposed to tell.”
Everyone agrees to keep it a secret from that point on.


About continuing care 

Thousands of Nova Scotians work in the continuing care sector under a broad range of services and programs, including nursing homes, home care organizations, residential care facilities, adult residential centres, regional rehabilitation centres and community-based options such as group homes and small option homes. 


During the interview, the mother and daughter are asked to describe what they admire about one another as they watch them on the job.
Says Heidi about her mother, “She has a lot of patience. It’s amazing, really. Because it’s a hard job and she treats everybody the same and treats the staff the same.”
Says Carmen about her daughter, “It makes me feel proud. She’s very kind to them. Treats them with kindness, gives them a kiss on the check. If she gets frustrated, I never see it.”
Both says they love working at Nakile. 
“It is the best place to work, honest to God, The management, they’re fair. Almost on a daily basis they tell us that we do a good job, which you don’t hear that everywhere. Everybody who works here is equal,” Carmen says. “There is no other place I’d rather work. It’s like a big family here.”
Adds Heidi about coming to work each day, “It’s like you’re leaving home to come home.”

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