Charlene Van Zyl

Charlene Van Zyl

Founder of Eden Alternative Mauritius and Living Change

Eden Alternative: Ron Smith Care Centre leads the way

The Ron Smith Care Centre in Johannesburg South Africa became an Eden Registry member in 2016.  This is the home where our regional coordinator Charlene van Zyl worked at before relocating to Mauritius and she started the Eden Journey there. 

Rand Aid’s Ron Smith Care Centre remains an Eden Alternative pioneer in South Africa, two-and-a-half years after becoming the first organisation in Gauteng to become a member of the Eden Alternative South Africa registry.

Founded in America, the Eden Alternative is revolutionising the way in which elders are cared for. The core concept of the Eden Alternative is about teaching us to see places where elders live as habitats for human beings rather than facilities for the frail and elderly. Eden Alternative thus sees aging as a continued stage of development and growth and not as a period of decline.
Four milestones have to be reached in order to fully master the Eden Alternative philosophy. Ron Smith Care Centre began its Eden Alternative journey in 2012, when a presentation was made to the Rand Aid board. At the end of 2016, after a process of physical, cultural, organisational and personal transformation, the criteria for Milestone One was reached and the care centre became only the second in Africa to achieve Eden Registry membership.In 2018, it achieved registry renewal, which is required every two years.
Today, there are five other organisations in South Africa which are in the process of completing Milestone One, which will entitle them to Eden Registry membership.Ron Smith Care Centre, meanwhile, is working towards achieving Milestone Two, which reflects the leadership’s commitment to spreading culture change throughout the organisation and preparing everyone to take an active role in change initiatives.It is hoped that Milestone Two will be achieved this year.

“Milestone Two recognises that wise leadership is the life blood of the struggle against the three plagues facing our elders – that of loneliness, helplessness and boredom,” says Debbie Christen, Rand Aid’s Manager: Recreational Programmes, who is part of the team managing the care centre’s Eden Alternative journey.

“It also emphasises that creating an elder-centred community is a never ending process, while focusing on restoring meaning to the lives of our elders. This is done by caring for the person and not the disease or disability that a resident is living with  and bringing decision making closer to the resident.
“To achieve Milestone Two, personal, organisational and physical transformation is required,” she says.
“Residents, staff, families and volunteers are all getting to know each other better, beyond their positions, roles, medical conditions or outward appearances,” says Debbie of the care centre’s Eden Alternative experiences.
“Activities and events are geared towards learning individual’s identities, making them meaningful, and giving people opportunities to meet each other, socialise, connect and have fun,” she says, explaining that the care centre’s ‘Who Am I’ initiative has been particularly successful in allowing residents, staff and volunteers to learn about others beyond a superficial level.
“I have so enjoyed being able to contribute to human growth and have particularly enjoyed working with and empowering different levels of staff in the planning and implementing of events and activities. These events not only bring meaning and joy to our residents but allow our staff to use their own unique gifts and talents.
“Some examples which spring to mind are the Happy Hours hosted in turn by the staff of our six wings, the annual Heritage Day event and Christmas Celebration, at which the staff provide the entertainment by planning, preparing and rehearsing for a musical skit or other item that they present on the day.
“In other words, we are providing our own entertainment by developing and exploring the gifts and talents of our residents and staff and giving them the chance to shine.  And the whole process is as valuable as the outcome.  
“After the Christmas 2018 event, where the staff performed a care centre version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, resident Jill Jones commented: ‘Very well done, particularly to you, but also to the cast, who thoroughly enjoyed it, and brought to the fore talents which I don’t think they were aware of. They had such fun performing and felt so good afterwards. What memories to keep for them. I just looked at the glowing faces as they took their bows. It was so lovely to see!”
Debbie says that the care centre’s volunteers also make an immense contribution to the well being of the care centre residents. “They all contribute in different ways – some of them run activities, some assist with OT activities, some do very special work with our residents living with dementia, some visit individuals and all volunteers add energy, warmth, caring, communication and connection to and with our elders.

“They make connections and build relationships.”

Debbie explains that globally, there is an elder loneliness epidemic. She says that as a society, we are lonelier than we have ever been. 
“In terms of our residents here, many of them receive few visitors. They are at an age where their friends and spouses are no longer with them, children may live overseas and many of them long for deep and engaging communication and connection with another human being.” 
She says that the care centre’s staff and volunteers have helped combat loneliness by building precious relationships with residents.

“Our nursing staff reach out to residents beyond standard nursing duties,” says Zabeth Zühlsdorff, Rand Aid’s GM Services and Advance Division. “They offer hand massages, read to residents from a favourite book, participate in building or doing puzzles and know what the favourite foods are of the residents in their care. They even know which clothes they like wearing for different occasions.”

Filtering Eden Alternative throughout the organisation
Rand Aid runs a number of retirement villages and two care centres and although Ron Smith Care Centre has pioneered Rand Aid’s Eden Alternative journey, the philosophy of people-centred care is being spread throughout the organisation.To date, 64 staff members across various levels have become Eden Associates after undergoing training and completing formal courses. Of these, 37 are from Ron Smith Care Centre.
“Most of our staff members understand, embrace and support the Eden Alternative philosophy, but do find it quite a challenge to put it into practice in their very busy days. It is truly an ongoing process to apply aspects of the philosophy to daily life at the care centre,” explains Debbie.
She says that an education plan is in place to impart knowledge of the Eden Alternative to residents, staff, volunteers and families. “Families and visitors to the care centre can actually see and experience what makes the Ron Smith Care Centre an Eden home.”
“We have received an increased number of both written and verbal thanks from families. In these letters, they mention the warm and caring relationships between their loved one and the care staff. They say it is such a comfort to them to know that their loved one is cared for with warmth and in ways that respect their identity and dignity,” says Zabeth.
Nothing sterile here
Beautiful grounds with gardens, flowers, plants and trees, a lake with ducks and other bird life, walking paths, outdoor recreation and hospitality areas with braais where one can socialise or be entertained, a croquet and golf or putt-putt area, swimming pool and jungle gyms for visiting grandchildren make Ron Smith Care Centre a place people are happy to call home.
“We have a herb garden, resident cats Candy and Stripe, a chicken coop and with permission, some residents have brought along their own cats or birds.
“Since the huge renovations done prior to us achieving Milestone One, our bathrooms have been upgraded and are now custom-designed to suit the needs of the elderly frail.“Upgraded dining areas help improve the meal time experience and those residents wanting a break from our dining hall, can visit our pretty, on-site coffee shop.”
The care centre’s multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, occupational therapist, occupational therapist technician, lifestyle assistant and recreation manager ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of residents.
Debbie adds that nursing care is no longer based on hospital routines, but is based upon person-directed care, with the residents having more autonomy in terms of when they wish to bathe, shower, dress and have their meals.
“Our friendly, caring staff uphold the Eden Alternative way of living out the motto: Warm hearts and caring hands.
“In short, we have made it our mission to create a better world for the people who live and work here; to promote wellbeing and a quality of life where they can live life to the fullest as part of a loving, caring and supportive community.”
The Eden Alternative philosophy is based on the core belief that ageing should be a continuous stage of development and growth, rather than a period of decline. The activity centre is one place in the complex where the staff makes it their mission to ensure that there is growth rather than decline amongst the residents and staff. And it is a place where residents can engage in meaningful activities which bring them joy and purpose.
The care centre is fortunate to have a group of dedicated volunteers who offer the gift of their time, talents and skills to touch and enrich the lives of our elders and to add to their health and wellbeing.
In the midst of a busy day, it is often the physical/medical needs that receive priority.  But since embarking on an Eden Alternative journey, we are committed to providing our residents with more holistic and person-centred care, where we recognise and address their physical, social, creative, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.
This is where our volunteers really make a difference and fill in the gaps. Volunteers may never know the profound effect that they may have made on a person’s life. A kind word, a gentle touch, a caring heart or a listening ear can mean so much to someone who is bored, lonely, sick or living with dementia. 
Photographs of the residents, staff, family and volunteers are an important part of the care centre and are so meaningful to all.  We generally put up a display of photos on our Gratitude Window after every special event or function, along with words thanking all those who played a part in making the event happen.
Visitors really seem to get a positive vibe when they look at the pictures and family members are reassured and happy to see that their loved ones attend and participate in meaningful activities which bring them joy.  One can see, through the pictures, that many positive connections and relationships have been formed and that magical and memorable moments have taken place.
Each of the six wings have their own special Magical Moments Memory Boards, which are filled with photos of residents, staff and volunteers enjoying themselves at various events, functions and activities.
Ron Smith Care Centre started is Eden Alternative journey in 2012 and was awarded a place on the Eden Registry in 2016. Since then, the care centre has been continuously committed to making a number of physical, cultural, operational and organisational changes to transform the environment in which the elders live.
“We have undertaken a journey to transform from a traditional, clinical, sterile hospital-like facility where the focus is on providing nursing care, into a warm and vibrant home which is based on person-centred care, where we care for the whole person,” says Debbie.
“We strive to create a place where each person feels known, valued and affirmed, where their individual needs and preferences are addressed, where they feel safe and secure, where they have opportunities to grow, develop new interests and engage in meaningful activities which bring them joy and purpose, where they are offered choices and encouraged to take part in planning and decision making, where they have opportunities to socialise with family and friends and to develop deep connections and relationships.

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