Inspiring Impact with Paige Fernandes

Inspiring Impact with Paige Fernandes

For this special series, Inspiring Impact, HIROC is partnering with AdvantAge Ontario to highlight the work of several of the presenters at their online education and networking event in May.

Show Summary

Today we’re talking with one of the session presenters, Paige Fernandes, Planning and Community Engagement Coordinator at Belmont House, a long-term care facility in downtown Toronto. With staff struggling with stress and burnout during the pandemic, Paige and her physiotherapist colleague Gordana Perunicic-Stankovic, created an evidence-based program called Workday Wellness.

Those were difficult days at Belmont House and they thought, let’s create a program that incorporates mindfulness and exercise and see how it goes. Workday Wellness is still in its early days, but Paige and Gordana are encouraged by staff interest in the program and want to keep doing everything they can to foster a positive work environment.

Mentioned in this Episode


Narrator (Intro): Imagine you could step inside the minds of Canada's healthcare leaders, glimpse their greatest fears, strongest drivers, and what makes them tick. Welcome to Healthcare Change Makers, a podcast where we talk to leaders about the joys and challenges of driving change and working with partners to create the safest healthcare system.

Ellen Gardner: Welcome to Inspiring Impact, a special series from HIROC. I'm Ellen Gardner with Philip De Souza. We're delighted to partner with AdvantAge Ontario and highlight the work of several of their presenters in advance of their online education and networking event in May.

Today we're talking with one of the session presenters, Paige Fernandes, Planning and Community Engagement Coordinator at Belmont House, a long-term care facility in downtown Toronto. With staff struggling with stress and burnout during the pandemic, Paige and her physiotherapist colleague, Gordana Perunicic-Stankovic created an evidence-based program called Workday Wellness.

Those were difficult days at Belmont and they thought, let's create a program that incorporates mindfulness and exercise and see how it goes. 

Ellen Gardner: Wonderful to have you on Healthcare Change Makers, Paige.

Paige Fernandes: Thank you.

Ellen Gardner: Can you first tell us a little bit about Belmont House and what you do there?

Paige Fernandes: Belmont House is a non-profit charitable long-term care and retirement home. We're located in the Downtown Toronto area and we have about 140 long-term care beds and 81 retirement apartments and about 250 staff.

At Belmont house, I'm actually the Planning and Community Engagement Coordinator here, which sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but it essentially means that my hands are kind of in everything from strategic planning oversight and managing the projects there, as well as this past year, just doing a lot of COVID response. I've been supporting the team in that way. It's an ever-changing role and I guess that's kind of descriptive of long-term care and retirement these days.

Ellen Gardner: You mentioned COVID, but I know that employee wellness is something that's important all the time. How did you discover that this was an issue for your team?

Paige Fernandes: Through my conversations informally with staff and my colleagues, and even reflecting on my own self, I noticed that everybody was struggling a little bit. I was talking to the physiotherapist here, one of my colleagues. The physio room is just down the hall from my office, so we always engage in conversation. It came up that we noticed staff were feeling a bit down and we were putting in a couple of resources here and there. We wanted to fuse our practices together, the physiotherapy, and then my personal health interests in fitness and wellness. We came about this wellness program as an idea and then it just spiralled from there.

Ellen Gardner: Did you draw inspiration from any sources to support the wellness initiative?

Paige Fernandes: In those conversations with the physiotherapist, Gordana and she's my co-presenter at the conference, she actually came across this model from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She learned about it from Harvard University in the lifestyle medicine course, and it's called the Circle of Health. I'll be talking more about that at the conference in more detail about the model and what it looks like and how it's applied to our wellness program.

Ellen Gardner: Can you give us just a little hint about maybe one of the key parts of that model that really attracted you?

Paige Fernandes: It's evidence-based and my whole background and I've done a Masters in Everything, so I'm all about the evidence and using that to formulate and develop programs. It was a heavily researched model that focuses on self-care techniques, and it was kind of like a framework that just fit very well with the wellness program. It has lots of research to back it up, so that's why we ended up choosing it.

Ellen Gardner: I love that you have a Masters in Everything! That sounds like a very comprehensive program.

Paige Fernandes: I just have one Masters degree for now, and I do have a designation in personal training, so my scope goes pretty wide at this point. My Masters was in public health and health systems and focused on aging research. Then, out of personal pursuit, I did the personal training certification.

Ellen Gardner: I can see how all those things would really help you in the job, just knowing about personal wellness and fitness. It would all come together really well.

Paige Fernandes: Yeah, the thing is that I just want to share the knowledge that I've gained and I'm on a constant learning state, so if I come across things, I share it with my colleagues and then this is how things spiraled into this wellness program, as well. It's all about sharing and learning and continuously growing.

Ellen Gardner: We're going to learn more about your initiative at the AdvantAge Conference, of course, but what's one takeaway that you can share with our listeners just to help them ensure that their own employees feel supported as they deal with burnout and chronic stress?

Paige Fernandes: I think one of the biggest takeaways from my experience with the wellness program and being involved in wellness activities at Belmont House is it doesn't have to be like this big encompassing program. I encourage other homes to really start small and to have a look at what you already have in place and build off of that, because I think that would make a program strong.

All of our organizations though, they have many similarities, but they can be different and operationally, we have to look at those pieces that we have in place, and then you don't want to add more stress or burden to your workload. The best thing to do is just reflect on those little pieces that you do have and build up on that to create something that causes change for staff in a positive way.

Ellen Gardner: Have you started to see the impact of your program?

Paige Fernandes: Yes. We actually did a survey just recently and we'll be presenting our results at the conference, as well. Through informal talk with staff, we have received positive feedback, which was just so rewarding and encouraging and helps set the tone for which direction we're going to head to keep up with wellness because people are interested in the program. They like participating in it and we'll show you more details at the conference.

Ellen Gardner: Well, that's something to look forward to, Paige. Can you tell us what you personally do to recharge because I'm sure you have a stressful life as well.

Paige Fernandes: Over the past year, I've been definitely adding more tools to my toolbox. I am a really big fitness junkie. I've been working out for almost 10 years at this point, and I do a lot of strength training, but I've also incorporated a lot of deep breathing and yoga and I do journaling and go for mindfulness walks and those things kind of help keep me at bay and keep me grounded. Those are some of the aspects that I've also incorporated into the wellness program here at Belmont House.

Ellen Gardner: Those sound great, Paige. I think all of us can relate to increased stress during the last year and the importance of finding ways to manage the stress. Just a final quick question is that yes, I think the biggest challenge for people is finding the time and working it into their already busy lives. Do you have a key piece of advice on that?

Paige Fernandes: Yeah, I think find a time that works for you. Personally, I'm an early bird. I wake up early in the mornings, I'm up at quarter after five 5:30. I start my day with deep breathing every day. It takes me three minutes to do one cycle and I use an app called Oak. It just guides you through the motions and it takes that three minutes and I feel refreshed and energized in the morning, and then I start a workout.

Paige Fernandes: That works for me and it might not work for everybody because not everybody's an early bird. It might work for someone in the middle of the day, or it might work in the evening after work or right before bed. I just encourage people to try different times that they feel like they can afford to give a little bit of time, whether it's two minutes to five minutes. It doesn't take long, just fit it in there somewhere.

Philip De Souza: That was great. I'm going to ask one more question. The title of the series with AdvantAge Ontario is Inspiring Impact, and I can tell that you and the team are inspiring impact at Belmont House. I wonder when the idea came and you and your teammates started brainstorming how to engage staff, was there something at the house with leadership, with staff, with residents, whomever, that helped keep the momentum going?

Paige Fernandes: We've been trying to encourage wellness strategies, and it was kind of done in a piecemeal way. Like I said, one of the messages was use what you have, and we had different strategies in place from handing out pamphlets and self-care packages, et cetera. As the pandemic just drew on, you just noticed that people were really burning out and that was identified in our Health and Safety Committee.

We had to brainstorm how we can address that and conversations in my head with myself and with other people we were just thinking about how can we really support staff? We don't know how long this pandemic is going to last. Let's try out a wellness program that involves mindfulness and exercise and see how that goes. 

We're just taking it step-by-step, but it seems like we had the seeds planted and we're just growing this movement into something very positive. That's kind of how it began and what direction we're headed.

Philip De Souza: No, it's amazing. When you did bring it forth to the team, the leadership team, everyone was there, obviously I'm assuming you had full support and people felt like yes, this is very important to do.

Paige Fernandes: Yes, for sure, because it was a need identified from staff members actually that they were feeling burnt out and depressed. You look around and you see in long-term care that's just how people have been feeling and you don't want to ignore it because we don't know what kind of side effects could lead from that burnout. We want to encourage and foster a positive work culture so that we prevent any side effects of burnout and really create a positive work environment for everybody.

Ellen Gardner: I could see how other long-term care facilities would be really interested in your program, Paige. Are you taking it into a wider audience? Is that the plan?

Paige Fernandes: We just started this actually in January, so we're happy to share and happy to take next steps because at the end of the day, we're kind of all in this together, right? All of us have been going through very similar things in long-term care. We would be happy to support other homes and long-term care staff in general, get through this as best as we can because we've had positive results. The best way, like I've mentioned earlier, is sharing the knowledge and experience that we've gained so that we can get through some of these challenging times together.

Ellen Gardner: That's great, Paige. Well, we really look forward to hearing from you and your team about your wellness initiative at the AdvantAge Conference. Thank you so much for your time today.

Paige Fernandes: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Ellen Gardner: You have just been listening to Inspiring Impact, a special series produced by HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario. Today our guest was Paige Fernandes, Planning and Community Engagement Coordinator at Belmont House. Stay tuned for more episodes of Inspiring Impact.

Ellen Gardner: Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website and on your favourite podcasting apps. If you like what you hear, please rate us or post a review.

Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website and on your favourite podcasting apps. If you like what you hear, please rate us or post a review. Healthcare Change Makers is recorded by HIROC's Communications and Marketing team and produced by Podfly Productions. Follow us on Twitter at @hirocgroup or email us at We'd love to hear from you.