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Jo Sumner with residents Margaret Marris (in pink), Shirley Finnigan (in red jacket) and Elena Fleming. Photo: Supplied

Thank You for Caring: Jo Sumner

Our ‘Thank You for Caring’ series looks to shine a light on aged care workers. It has been a tough 24 months for the sector, so each week we will profile one of the many aged care workers who keep our homes running and make a difference to the lives of residents.

This week we spoke with Jo Sumner. Jo is a Leisure and Wellness Coordinator at Uniting Mirinjani in ACT. She joined Uniting in April 2004 after a 23-year career in the Public Service, starting off as a volunteer at Uniting Mirinjani and then moving into a position as a Recreational Activities Officer. She was then appointed as the Leisure and Wellness Coordinator in August 2016.

Part of my job is to work alongside the care team and the home makers to look after social experience and wellbeing of all the residents here. That’s through meaningful life and wellbeing programs.

Also, part of my job is to establish relationships and network within our local communities to provide active ageing opportunities, which will improve the quality of their life through these activities.

I come in in the morning and usually just go around and check if there’s anything that I need to do for anyone, chat with the residents, help them with some breakfast. If there’s a resident sitting here early in the morning at the table, I’ll get their breakfast for them, make them a cup of tea, whatever. Just ask them what they’d like to do. They don’t have to be sitting there until eight o’clock to wait for breakfast. If they’re up and about, we’ll sit down and have a chat about the headlines in the paper and things like that.

Then I just let them have breakfast, wait an hour or so, and then we usually have a structured monthly program. This year’s been horrible because of when we had the bush fires, which here in Canberra was absolutely dreadful. We had to stop our program of going out into the community because of the air quality. We were just about to give a go at it again when COVID hit. We had to change our complete program and complete thinking of what we were going to do for these people.

Now I go into every little household and I’ll either do a small group activity which then can be a community circle where we can pick a topic to reminisce. We’ll do cooking. Residents love quizzes. Generally, they like to sit around in a circle, have a cup of tea, and have a chat.

Then usually help out with lunch in the afternoon. I usually probably do just another little community wellbeing check or go around into the rooms. Quite often I go down and do some shopping for them. By the end of the day, I do my paperwork, answer emails and phone calls and try to get people in or get programs going to continue that connection with the outside community for them. And by then it’s time to go home.

A lot of people think it’s the fun position, but it’s a lot of hard work trying to keep everyone engaged. Uniting always says to us ‘boredom is a big problem in age care’. That’s one thing we’d like to try and step away from that word, boredom.

I think when I was young and at school, I thought that I wanted to be a nurse, but I never did anything about it. I’m the type of person that just cares for the elderly people. I look at these people that we care for here. I treat them like I would expect my mum to be cared for in a care facility. I think you have to be a special type of person to work in aged care.

I think there’s nothing I don’t like about this job. I love aged care, but the hardest part is when you form those relationships, not only with the residents but with their family. When they’re getting to the end of their life and they go, it’s quite distressing sometimes. They are part of your family. In a lot of cases, we get families that live interstate and they entrust us with their mum’s care or uncle’s. That’s where the relationship builds. It’s really tough at the end of the day.

My favourite thing is just spending time with these people who are likeable. We learn so much from them every day. If I can make someone smile throughout their day, this whole job is worth it. If they smile when they see me, they look at me, it’s really beautiful.”

Jo’s story is edited from a conversation she had with Aged Care Insite.

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