Inspiring Impact with Laura Tamblyn Watts

Cover art for Inspiring Impact mini-series. Image of Laura

We’re back this year with the Inspiring Impact mini-series, a partnership between HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario to highlight the work of several presenters at their 2022 convention.

Show Summary

Laura Tamblyn Watts believes that the future of seniors’ care is about taking a care-at-home approach, and reserving 24/7 long-term care for those who need it most. As CEO of CanAge, Laura works with long-term care operators, families, and caregivers to educate, inform, and advocate. 

Again this year, HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario have come together to produce the Inspiring Impact podcast mini-series. This four-part series highlights several amazing presenters at the 2022 AdvantAge Ontario convention, and explores the innovation and passion at play in the long-term care sector. 

Today HIROC’s Michelle Holden and Philip De Souza sit down with Laura to chat about her presentation at the AdvantAge Ontario convention. Laura’s session delves into the two national standards drafts on long-term care, highlighting what operators, families and caregivers need to know. 

Mentioned in this Episode


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Michelle Holden: Welcome to Inspiring Impact a special series from HIROC and Advantage Ontario. From HIROC's communications and marketing team, I'm Michelle Holden with Philip De Souza. Hey, Philip.

Philip De Souza: Hey, Michelle. I'm looking forward to today's chat.

Michelle Holden: So, last year we launched Inspiring Impact in partnership with AdvantAge Ontario to highlight the work of presenters at their annual convention. We're back again this year, speaking with a few presenters from this year's convention.

Philip De Souza: Exactly. Last year's series of inspiring impact was phenomenal. So many great takeaways. And today we're talking with Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, Canada's National Seniors Advocacy organization.

Michelle Holden: Welcome to the show, Laura.

Laura Tamblyn Watts: Thanks for having me. 

Michelle Holden: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where do you work and what do you do?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: Well, I work all across Canada in an organization called CanAge, which is Canada's national seniors advocacy organization and you get me here today in Victoria, BC, but our organization is coast to coast to coast with our head offices in Toronto.

Michelle Holden: That's fantastic. You are speaking at this year's Advantage Ontario convention. That's why we're speaking with you today. Can you share a little bit about your session with us?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: Our session is going to be delving into national standards on long term care. Something everybody is leaning at the front of their seat about. We know the challenges that we've had of course, during the pandemic and for many of us in the sector, long before the pandemic happened. And one of the ways that we are addressing that is by creating national standards. We have two sets of standards. One is done on the issues of care and the other one is done on operations, infection, prevention, control, and the actual building itself. So, two standards that are being reviewed right now and they're out for comment.

So this session will highlight what's happening in this draft and what we can think about moving forward when these standard to come into place in November. Operators are really going to need to know what is in the standards and how are they going to have to get ready for them. Residents and family caregivers are going to want to know what is changing, when, why, and what can they expect. So, everyone's got something to learn at this session.

Michelle Holden: So, how is CanAge involved in those standards? Can you give us a bit of background on that?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: I sit on the technical committee for operations IPAC and the building envelope itself. I also sit on the combined advisory committee that oversees both the HSO and the CSA standards. So, that means the two care standards and the operation standards. And our organization, CanAge, represents seniors and really all Canadians as we age. And that means we're helping to bring the perspective of residents, caregivers, family, and friends, and also the impact of how community and long term care should work better together.

We've been facilitating input sessions for the standards as an organization, and we've provided written submissions to both of those standards as well. So, we are well and truly in it.
Michelle Holden: And so what makes you as a founder and CEO and also just a professional who's heavily involved in this, very passionate about the standards?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: I'm a lawyer by training and have been involved in law reform for more than 20 years. And standards may feel very technical or even quite dry. So, we're sometimes thinking about where hand washing is going to be in terms of stations and where ventilation is or isn't going to be.

But if you flip that around in a person centered or resident centered approach, it really is about quality of life. If you're having hand washing stations, is it because you are somebody who washes before praying and you need to make sure that you have those ablutions available to you?

So if you're living as well in a particular suite in long-term care, can you open the window for a breath of fresh air? So, these standards have to move from this technical, flat, regulatory perspective and be seen the other way around. What is it like for people to live there? What is it like for people to work there? And that's what drives us to make sure that we have improved quality of life and quality of care.

Michelle Holden: Can you tell me a little bit about the type of people that you'd like to see sitting in the virtual audience at the session? Who is it for and what will they be getting from it?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: Everybody is welcome at this session and will get something from it. For people who are running long-term care homes, this is going to be core to the business for the next 10 years. And I think many people who run long term care or who work in long term care will be grateful for the chance to have improved standards, but are going to be really concerned about where the money is going to come from to implement them.

And when we talk about things like care standards, for instance four hours of worked care, that's a nice idea, but if we don't have any staff now, how are we going to get to four hours of worked care without setting up homes to fail? So, that's going to be part of the conversation that we're going to have in our session. For family and residents and visitors to long term care, they're going to want to know how is it that we can make sure we don't have what happened during COVID-19 occur again. We will want to make sure that people have good quality of life and good quality of care and make sure we avoid those lockdowns that were so painful for people who lived or had loved ones in long term care. So this is going to be a critical session for everyone.

Michelle Holden: Thanks, Laura. I can tell that you are very passionate about it, even just speaking and listening to you talk about it. I wanted to step back a little bit and ask you, you mentioned you're a lawyer, but how did you get started in this area of work?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: I was called to the bar in 1999, but my work in this area started long before that. I, like so many other people who entered the fields of seniors' care, was very close to my grandparents and a great aunt and uncle. We provided hands on care for decades to them and many of them had some form of cognitive impairment as well as physical impairment. So, I grew up that being quite a normal part of my life.

And it wasn't until a little bit later that I realized that many people didn't have any connections with older folks and that meant that they really saw older people as other. That was really upsetting and disturbing. I continued my work, my volunteer work particularly with the Alzheimer's society, all the way through my undergrad and branched out as well into other social justice areas like women's issues. I ran the women's center and a rape crisis center through law school as well.

When I was in my practice, I did a lot of child abuse cases and also came to understand that there were so many cases of elder abuse. Now this is a long time ago, and we didn't really talk about elder abuse. And I realized in particular when one aha moment happened and I had a case with a woman who was pushing back against her adult son who was taking advantage of her. He was taking her money. He was intimidating her and he was physically abusing her.

And she quite rarely had the ability to push back. She hired a lawyer. She was able to say no, she had the mental and physical ability to resist his abuse. And I remember at that moment as a very young lawyer that I thought, I didn't want to just fix the problem for this one woman who had all these social abilities, but to try to help all older people who had those issues as well.

And so from that notion of elder abuse, we started thinking about how to meld that with my learnings in social justice and as well, understandings of seniors care, home care, Alzheimer's, and eventually long term care. So, it was a natural progression for me to go into this area. And as seniors issues are becoming ever more the forefront and as our population is aging, these issues are of course much more our day to day conversations, and as this session's going to talk about, real challenges not just to individuals, but to institutions and structures as well.

Michelle Holden: It sounds like your background is perfectly, as you said, melded for this and that you've brought these things together. But I want to see and I want to hear about maybe what is your vision for the future of seniors care? Where do you see it going and ideally, in a perfect world, what would it be like?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: In a perfect world, our seniors care would be informed by overcoming ageism. There is always money, time and attention for things that we care about as a society. And so it's no surprise that we have been actively neglecting seniors care because we actively neglect seniors. And for many of us who are confronted on a daily basis with the clock hands ticking at our own aging, or even going to a card store and buying a birthday card with offensive comments about age, there's very little out there that makes it feel like this is a positive or even natural progression to look forward to.

So, I would turn that on its end. But having said that, the good news is this: We know the recipe for improved seniors care. We know that we need to move to a care at home approach. It's cheaper, it's what people want, and it's something that our systems can manage to do under our aging population. And that means not just the idea of home care that we have now, a few hours of very discreet help a couple times a week for a short period of time, but really more of a Nordic approach where care comes to you at the home, whether it be doctors, nurses, oncology, dialysis, physiotherapy.

All of it can happen in your own home and reserving that 24 hour long term care for those people who really need it the most, of which there will be more of. And when we get to long term care for those people who do need that 24 hour high needs care, to make it emotion focused, transformative, that it's performed in smaller places with models that allow people to take some risk and live their vibrant and purposeful lives. Even if they have cognitive dementia or other forms of mental impairment, even if they have physical impairment, that those walls of long term care should be walls of safety and inclusion in community, giving people shelter, not walls of imprisonment or exclusion to the rest of the community.

Michelle Holden: Thank you. Your vision definitely gives some comfort to the idea of aging. Sounds nice and that you do take inspiration. That's what I wanted to follow up with. You mentioned a Nordic approach to care. So where do you get your inspiration? Is there other countries that you look to, other organizations?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: We know how important it is to ensure that the focus is on people living vibrant, purposeful, and engaged lives. And that has been very much the focus of our Nordic countries. And by that, I mean Finland, Denmark, and really also Sweden as well. But in addition, we see really good examples in the Netherlands too. The Netherlands has been at the center of putting together what we call dementia villages, where there are real communities with lovely shops and areas for people to walk and garden and engage, where people who live there are not treated as patients, but they are part of a village type community, which is safe and supportive, but also a place where there can be a lot of joy.

In the Nordic countries, they mostly don't build long-term care in the way that we think about institutional long-term care. In some of those countries, they haven't built one for more than a decade because they have focused so much on keeping the capacity for those who really need it and enriching care at home very concretely.

So, those areas are real inspirations. The last one I would say is we're getting a lot of inspiration out of some of the emotion focused models of care. Some of them come from Australia, as an example, where we're really looking to ensure that we are de-institutionalizing. And what that means is that people aren't wearing medical uniforms who work there, that people are greeted as individuals, they're not left in the hallways, and that they're part of the broader community where we're thinking about what's important to the person and designing programming around them.

They live in smaller hubs and as they progress through some type of physical or cognitive increased set of needs, they don't have to go elsewhere for that, the layering on needs can happen in an emotion focused, centered care quite easily. You don't have to up and move to assisted living and then up and move again to a 24 hour nursing home and up and move again to a hospice care. All of that can come to you in that 24/7 environment.

Philip De Souza: Hey, Laura, it's Philip here. You basically gave us a masterclass in better understanding the landscape of seniors care across the country. So, thank you for that. At HIROC, we follow a design thinking methodology when faced with a challenge. And so from your experience, what can our listeners do to better understand what communities need to shape the future of seniors care?

Laura Tamblyn Watts: The good news is we don't have to push too much in design thinking to come up with some commonplace answers, because we know what people like anywhere. People like to be able to see out. People like to have fresh air. They like to be able to control their own climate. And that means heat and air conditioning. We know that people like to be able to move independently on their own to their greatest ability. They want to make sure that their bathed regularly and that they have the chance to have visits and connections and purpose in their lives.

So, with that as a good understanding, we can quite easily see some of the things that fall out. What I wanted to add to that though, is not just designed thinking, but cultural design thinking has becoming increasingly important. So, the example I gave about hand washing was really about one of the examples we were discussing in national standards conversations about Muslim people who were going for prayers, who needed to perform ablutions.

And so in their, what we call quiet rooms or spiritual rooms, until then there usually were not fountains or hand washing abilities. And yet, of course it was so critically important for that community to be able to perform their ablutions. So, if you weren't thinking in a cultural context, you might miss some of those needs. I think as we are more multicultural and more diverse, we also need to understand that people don't just become heterogeneous white men magically when they come into long term care.

And so a greater understanding of diversity and inclusion, around gender, sexual orientation, sexual expression, food, of course, is critically important. And how we express our culture, how we express our values has also got to go into not just the physical space, but also in our activities that we prioritize for long term care. The good news is it's not that hard. A human based approach just means that we need to come together as diverse communities and support the planning of the physical space, the operations, and the programming. It allows us to be better.

Michelle Holden: Thank you, Laura, for chatting with us and sharing a little bit about your session at this year's Advantage Ontario convention, and also what makes you so passionate about seniors care.

Laura Tamblyn Watts: I'm just saying ,you don't want to miss the AdvantAge Ontario Conference. It is a highlight every single year, no matter how experienced you are in this sector or how new you are into this sector, you will find great things to learn. Not only at our session, but throughout the conference as well. So, make sure that you put it in your calendars as a don't miss event this spring.

Michelle Holden: Absolutely. From all of us at HIROC, we have the same view. We love that conference. So thank you so much and good luck with everything.

Laura Tamblyn Watts: Thank you.

Michelle Holden: You've just been listening to our interview with Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge and speaker at this year's Advantage Ontario convention. This episode is part of our inspiring impact series for 2022 in partnership with Advantage Ontario. If you'd like what you heard, please leave us a review and don't forget to hit the subscribe button so you'll be notified when new episodes are released. And for more information about HIROC, or to listen to other episodes of healthcare change makers, including the inspiring impact series, please visit and favorite the show on your preferred podcasting app. Thank you for listening.

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