“Her faithfulness and commitment are an inspiration”: QEII social worker uplifts clients and coworkers during challenging year


Pictured: Carmen Johnstone-Chapman, who was recognized by her colleague Ann Nelson for her incredible commitment to her clients and coworkers throughout the pandemic. Contributed.

Ann Nelson, a Halifax physiotherapist, was inspired to nominate her longtime coworker Carmen Johnstone-Chapman as a #QEIIHealthHero for her resilience and positivity throughout even the most difficult times of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Carmen, who’s been a social worker for 31 years, currently works on the seniors’ health team at the Geriatric Day Hospital Falls Clinic located in the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Building. The clinic runs an outpatient rehabilitation program for adults aged 65 years and older, which helps elderly patients maintain or regain their levels of mobility and function.

Carmen and Ann, who work together at the clinic, have undergone multiple, stressful work-related changes throughout the pandemic. 

Before COVID-19 came to Nova Scotia, Carmen and Ann both saw patients in-person at the clinic. “I would see patients [for physiotherapy] in a group of eight or 10 throughout the day, and they would see Carmen for social work,” says Ann. “The clinic was such a busy, vibrant place,” adds Carmen.

Everything changed when pandemic restrictions came into effect. “When COVID first hit, seniors were at most risk. Most people, including myself and Carmen, were redeployed until summer 2020,” Ann explains.

For three months, Carmen was redeployed to the long-term care unit in the QEII’s Veterans Memorial Building. The turmoil caused by the unknowns of COVID-19 made for an emotional new work environment.

“There were many patients and families under COVID-19 lockdown who were not able to see each other.” Carmen recalls. “I will never forget the times I sat bedside with patients who were passing away, holding phones and laptops close to them so family members who could not visit due to COVID restrictions could express their love and say their goodbyes, sing to them, and cry. I cried many times myself.”

Even though it could be emotional at times, Carmen went above and beyond to make her long-term patients feel comfortable during difficult times. She also decorated rooms for birthdays, ordered cakes, and brought in her ukulele to play soothing songs.

When staff did return to the clinic, things looked very different. “We couldn’t open the way we did before. We couldn’t have patients in groups at all - we had to switch our records to virtual, had do assessments over the phone, and had to do individual home visits,” says Ann.

These necessary safety changes unfortunately had negative implications on clinic operations. For example, patients were only able to be seen once in the clinic and/or their homes instead of twice a week for six weeks at the clinic.

“It was especially hard for Carmen’s role as a social worker,” says Ann. “She relies so much on reading physical cues to pick up on stress, elder abuse, and caregiver burnout. Those things are harder to pick up on virtually, on fewer visits or with masks.”

Some staff members also struggled to adjust to a socially-distanced office environment, and had to learn new skills and pick up extra tasks. “It was stressful to learn new technology which was not my strength. Many of us missed out-of-office coworkers, and had to fill in for their workload. Team tensions rose all around,” Carmen recalls.

Ann noticed that despite these difficulties, Carmen never lost her positive attitude and dedication to clients and coworkers.

“Carmen has been through more changes than any other team member, yet she still tirelessly wants to do the best job she can for every client she encounters,” Ann says. “She was so eager to pivot, learn, and jump in to help anywhere she could throughout this entire process.”

Ann shared that a family member of one client recently called the clinic to express how thankful they were for the care that Carmen had provided for their loved one during the most recent third wave.

“The family member sent an email expressing their sincere gratitude for our entire geriatric team,” Ann says. “But, they specifically mentioned Carmen. That she was an absolute delight through all of the restrictions handling phone calls, everything – they couldn’t say enough good things about her!”

The Geriatric Day Hospital Falls Clinic isn’t quite back to normal yet, but things are getting there as restrictions begin to ease with vaccinations rolling out. They hope to return to in-person group physiotherapy sessions by September 2021, a model that seems to be ideal for both clients and staff.

“We're definitely looking forward to the next chapter in vaccinations,” says Ann. “We want to get back to offering our Nova Scotian seniors regular support, so they’re not growing frailer because they’re too scared to leave their house because of COVID-19. When they have to stay home all the time they get lonely, move less, and get depressed. We want to prevent and treat mobility and emotional issues.”

This is Carmen’s last year before retirement, and it’s certainly been a year full of twists and turns. Yet, her ever-optimistic personality has still found some silver linings.  “My work family has been a great encouragement,” Carmen reflects. “I’ve also learned a lot through this pandemic about myself - that I can be effective working differently, and come out on the other side a stronger person.”

“I’ve worked with Carmen for over 20 years, and I've always been impressed with the way she focuses on other’s needs,” Ann says. “To have the faithfulness and commitment to her clients and those around her each and every day even throughout all of these challenges has been such an inspiration.”