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An oasis during the pandemic

Oasis Without Walls program provides vital virtual support for seniors.

As with other public activities in Kingston and area, COVID-19 has forced many health and social programs to pivot and find new ways to deliver services. The Oasis Senior Supporting Living program, which was designed to promote healthy aging-in-place for seniors living in apartment buildings and other naturally occurring retirement communities, is no different. 

With the onset of COVID-19, the Oasis team has rapidly adapted its delivery model to maintain social connections while adhering to KFL&A Public Health’s physical distancing requirements. The new adapted program, Oasis Without Walls, continues to focus on the three Oasis pillars: socialization, nutrition, and physical activity. 

“When COVID-19 measures came in place, all Oasis programming sites were shut down for the safety of the members, and activities ended rather abruptly,” says Simone Parniak, Oasis project manager and Queen’s employee. “We quickly pivoted with the support of students and began calling each individual member in Kingston and Belleville to identify pressing needs, including lack of access to groceries and isolation and loneliness, particularly because many members could only communicate by telephone.” 

Conversations Confronting COVID-19: Aging
On Wednesday, July 22 at 11:30 am, Dr. Catherine Donnelly will join Dean Jane Philpott and other experts for Conversations Confronting COVID-19: Aging. The virtual discussion will address lessons learned about Canada’s elderly population during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is free and open to the public. Register now.

Since 2018, Drs. Catherine Donnelly and Vince DePaul have partnered with the original Oasis members and board to spread this model to other communities in Ontario, including three apartment buildings in Kingston and one mobile home park in Quinte West. 

In early March 2020, there were approximately 170 total members at the newly-expanded sites, participating in face-to-face, group-based programs. On preliminary evaluation, compared to baseline, at six months post-implementation, fewer reported being lonely (33 vs 23 per cent), more members reported doing some physical activity (78.6 vs 83.4 per cent), and fewer reported multiple falls in the last six months (6.8 vs 18.2 per cent).  

In response to the pandemic, the Oasis program has coordinated a growing team (nine and counting) of undergrad and graduate students, and student volunteers from across Queen’s University to create and remotely deliver a variety of programs that best address the three Oasis pillars using virtual mechanisms (e.g Zoom, Skype, telephone). 

“The students have been instrumental in leading the development and delivery of Oasis Without Walls that keeps members well-connected and healthy,” says Dr. DePaul, Assistant Professor at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. “Physical distancing has not had to mean social distancing.” 

The students began training members on Zoom and quickly compiled resources related to food, exercises and fun activities to beat boredom. They shared these with members by email or by telephone and organized weekly coffee chats for each community – an hour on Zoom each week for members to chat about current events and feel better connected to their neighbours. Student volunteers continue calling members each week to check in and make sure they are okay. 

“A lot of the feedback from members has been primarily around appreciating the check-in phone calls or emails, the zoom coffee chats and the weekly email updates,” says Carly Pappas, an occupational therapy student. “One of the calls that I think stuck out to me was when calling a member, I didn't realize her daughter was visiting and I was on speaker phone. Her daughter called out and said she really appreciated the calls and was so happy to hear that her mom is being thought of and supported. It’s the idea that these members are being thought of and that we are a resource for additional support if they were to need it.” 

In June, two physiotherapy students joined the team in a separate placement specifically exploring physical activity programming. They just launched Zoom exercise classes twice a week, exercise videos that will be shared on YouTube, and a fitness bingo to keep members active and engaged while staying safe in their own homes.  

Dr. Donnelly, Dr. DePaul and Parniak continue to develop programming for Oasis without Walls to be delivered by a dedicated group of students over the summer and into the fall. The Oasis team are in the midst of conducting a formal evaluation of the impact of the pandemic on Oasis members, and the potential of Oasis without Walls as a possible strategy suitable for scale up to other communities.    

For more information on the Oasis program, read the Queen’s Gazette story