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The Butterfly Approach: How one company is transforming the culture in long-term care homes

Meaningful Care Matters’ innovative care model is emotion-focused and person-centred to make LTC’s feel less like a facility and more like a home

While long-term care homes have traditionally focused on providing high-quality physical care, emotional care is not always considered, and feelings of security and the comfort of home can be undermined by unfamiliar surroundings. 

Meaningful Care Matters (MCM) is looking to change that. Established in 2019, their goal is to take care models beyond just physical care, to address the overall quality of life for residents, where they are ‘free to be’ themselves. 

They accomplish this through several different culture transformation programs, which aim to transform the overall culture in long-term care homes. One of these programs is called the Butterfly Approach, “a revitalized, refreshed and innovative model of care supporting people living with dementia to live well.” 

Sunnyside Home Long-term Care in Kitchener is one of the places that has begun to adopt their emotion and people-centered model.  

They began implementing the Butterfly Approach, which essentially reshapes the care home into more of a shared household rather than a facility, in their two dementia homes in January of 2020. 

“Our vision at Sunnyside is to be a caring community where every person can live their best life. And so to do that, we really had to think about how we supported people across all elements of health, including their emotional well being,” said Lindsay Marinovic, who is the co-lead of butterfly certification and has worked in various roles at Sunnyside since 2004. 

“People with dementia respond to the world through their feelings. For example, you might have a resident at the end of the day who is looking to go home, but there's a feeling behind that. They might be looking for that feeling of safety or security. So if you could meet that emotional need, and provide that person with safety and security, they're going to be more settled, they're going to be more engaged in their environment, and they're going to feel more comfortable,” she said. 

They wanted to embrace the Butterfly Approach because they loved the focus on supporting people’s emotional needs, as well as the focus on engaging residents more with daily activities.

For instance, instead of staff doing everything for the residents, they are encouraged to get involved in the ‘household’ throughout the day.

“So they might help with tasks like meal preparation,” she said. “If you go into a long term care home that's certified in the butterfly approach, you'll see people helping to prepare food, you'll look at the tables, they'll be dressed up with tablecloths and different items that people can look at or talk about. And people will really focus on being together.”

They are also working with staff to shift the way they work, to consider their work throughout the day as opportunities to provide meaningful engagement and emotional support for the people who live there, rather than just tasks that have to be done. 

Beyond engaging residents and shifting the way staff work, the appearance of the facility is also altered to look more home-like. 

She said walls are painted to be bright and colourful, and they are incorporating more items throughout the environment to reflect the people who live there. 

“For example, as you walk down the hall, you might walk past a room of a person who used to enjoy baking. And outside of her room is a board with an apron, a rolling pin and some different baking utensils. And the purpose of this is really to spark up conversation and engagement between residents and staff,” she said. 

Staff are also encouraged to wear their own clothes, and to sit down and have meals with the residents, family-style. 

Marinovic said she has seen a huge change in morale of the people in their two home areas undergoing this cultural shift, and that they have received good feedback from staff and families. 

“In a nutshell, it helps us to live our vision to help people live their best life,” she said. 

Typically it only takes a year for a home to become fully certified by MCM, but some of their efforts have been put on pause because of the pandemic. Currently, they’re about a third of the way through the change, and expect to be certified by next summer. 

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