Petersburg Pilot -

Whale Watching and LeConte Glacier Tours based out of Petersburg Alaska

New feathered residents at Long Term Care


Jess Field / Petersburg Pilot

The two budgies have been a hit for all ages since arriving art PMC's Long Term Care facility.

The recent addition of two bird cages filled with feathered friends for Petersburg Medical Center's Long Term Care (LTC) residents is all about combating loneliness, helplessness and boredom. The positive impact of the birds is noticeable, according to Susan Ohmer, executive director of Petersburg Mental Health Services.

Ohmer started the process of bringing birds into LTC about three months ago, after getting the green light from PMC Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Bryner. Ohmer immediately started seeking donations and raising funds because she knew how meaningful the little critters would be for the residents' quality of life. The project is funded through donations to the PMC Foundation Eden Project, and the hospital also assisted with some of the start-up costs, Ohmer says.

"It's going better than I had ever hoped. It's something to be a part of that isn't you being wheeled up to play bingo," Ohmer says. "And people enjoy bingo, so I'm not being negative about it, but there's something passive about that, and this is much more active and engaged."

The idea comes from the already established and research-supported Eden Alternative. It was developed in the early-1990s, and based around changing the culture of person-directed care. In the beginning, the Eden Alternative seemed to truly change the level of care in nursing homes, so much that it has since expanded its reach to all care settings.

"What's nice is that we didn't just pull this out of our hat, we were able to utilize policies and approaches that have research backing it," Ohmer says. "People with dementia becoming less agitated and calmer. Withdrawn people often start speaking spontaneously about the birds."

Initially, Ohmer was concerned about allergies, but the LTC filtration systems are so good that no issues have arisen so far. In fact, one staff member with bird allergies is one of the most enthusiastic of the program, Ohmer says.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the Eden Alternative is encouraging the community to come to the LTC facility to spend time with the birds while socializing with residents. The birds are particularly exciting to youngsters, and an instant conversation starter. Which is important for Ohmer, who vividly remembers trips to visit the nursing home when she was little and not knowing what to talk about with the residents. The birds erase all uncertainty, she says.

There will be 15 birds total once the lady goudlian finches are ready to be introduced. Right now they're currently quarantined in Ohmer's bathroom–with the heat turned up, so they can get stabilized before moving to LTC. There are already spice finches and red-cheeked cordon-bleu finches, and a red factor canary, and two parakeets also known as "budgies."

The budgies are in a slender, separate cage from the rest, so they can be easily wheeled to a resident's bedside or room, just to hang out and keep them company. The other birds are in a large cage currently being kept in the kitchen common area.

Ohmer says making sure the birds are cared for is a priority, because ownership of a feathered companion goes far beyond just placing them in a cage. She created a manual dedicated to caring for the birds, and the manual also has over a dozen birds available to order for residents who decide they want their own bird. This allows increased ownership for the residents keeping in mind the main goal of changing the LTC culture.

LTC activities coordinator Janna Machalek says the overall response leading up to the arrival of the birds and their introduction to residents and community members has been overwhelmingly positive.

"There are lots of folks bringing their kids down, and it sort of helps overcome the barrier with kids thinking this is a boring place to be," she says.

Machalek says LTC resident Ray Olsen was on the fence about the birds to start, but on the first day he was cooing at them. And that night the two budgies, in the mobile cage, slept in the room with him and his wife, Gladys. The couple have their own pet names for the budgies - Gladys and Ray.

The birds now sleep at the foot of Ray's bed every night, and it's almost like the Olsen's have adopted them, something Machalek calls "incredible." Rumor has it Ray even has a flashlight in his room to check on them at night, which indicates not only ownership, but care.

"I am a major animal person. I think that people need to be needed and animals need people," Machalek says. "And this creates an opportunity for the residents, they are receiving care here, but it gives them the opportunity to take care of something."

Part of Machalek's job is socializing the birds, and just the other day she was working with "Blinky" the yellow budgie in her office. After singing a couple traditional songs, Blinky had no response. Then, she started singing Patsy Cline "Walkin' After Midnight," and Blinky started bobbing his head and sticking his tongue out at her.

There is also a blue budgie, and with the bright orange colored red factor canary, who resides in the big cage, they account for all the colorful birds. The finches are more subtly colored, which is something that drew LTC resident Ray Dugaqua to the lone canary.

"I love the birds, I love the birds, especially the canary. I am just amazed with it," he says. "I am took with the canary, I'll tell ya."

In the large cage, Dugaqua's favorite bird can often be found sitting near the bottom on a wooden rest, watching the finches fly back and forth above. The finches are always on the go, and making noise. Dagaqua likes their presence and energy, saying you have to have a little noise, and he calls them a "welcome addition to our home."

The PMC Eden Project also includes the recent addition of the garden in the LTC solarium. Vegetables from the garden, grown with the help of residents, will be fed to the birds keeping with the theme of caring and ownership.

Eden Alternative Principles:

1 The three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our elderly.

2 An Elder-centered facility commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with plants, animals, children and the surrounding community.  It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living.

3 Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness.  Our elderly deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.

Jess Field / Petersburg Pilot

LTC resident Ray Dagaqua, left, is overcome with laughter and joy while meeting the newest members of the LTC family for the first time.

4 An Elder-centered community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care. This is the antidote to helplessness.

5 An Elder-centered community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.

6 Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit.  The opportunity to do things that we find meaningful is essential to human health.

7 Medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, never its master.

8 An Elder-centered community honors its residents by de-emphasizing top-down, bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the residents or into the hands of those closest to them.


Reader Comments

Current Petersburg Pilot subscribers! Your print subscription entitles you to complete access to our new comprehensive website.  Contact Pilot staff for help setting up your account. Not yet a Pilot subcriber? Subscribe online now!

Our Family of Publications Includes:

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2018