August 25, 2010

Seniors Wellness Expo helps add life to your years

As published in The Erin Advocate

Getting older is getting more complicated all the time. With life expectancy creeping higher in our affluent society, it is no wonder there are so many people trying to help seniors live better. Fortunately, we have agencies dedicated to helping us figure out which other agencies we should be using.

For those with an interest in educating themselves on the process, it was worth a visit to the second annual Seniors Wellness Expo, put on by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) on August 18 at Centre 2000. It will be on again in Rockwood on Monday, September 13, 1-7 pm. Transportation is available – call EWCS at 519-833-9696 or go to

The displays were by private companies, charities, social agencies, health professionals and government departments, all in a casual trade show environment. EWCS unveiled a new display booth, a professional way to show off its many services, which include the Seniors Day Program, information & referral, caring callers, foot care & hearing clinics, and activities for older active adults.

There are various other free services not based in Erin, but intended to serve our population. For example, Community Torchlight of Wellington-Dufferin offers a Distress Line, 519-821-3760, a non-judgmental listening service. It is for anyone who is lonely or upset, needing to talk to a supportive person. Check out for their other services, including a Mental Health Crisis Line, 519-821-0140.

Abuse of older adults is a serious issue which often goes unreported. It is not just about violence, but includes issues of medication, denial of mobility aids and neglect of basic needs. Help is available from the Wellington Seniors at Risk System Coordinator, 519-843-6191; from the Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre, 519-823-2550; and from SOS - Seniors Offering Support, a confidential phone support line with senior volunteers, 519-767-4445.

Anyone who has experienced domestic violence can get treatment, emotional support and advice from specially trained nurses or social workers at Guelph General Hospital. Call 519-837-6440, ext. 2728.

If a senior is being treated for any type of problem at a hospital emergency department in Guelph, Orangeville, or others in the Waterloo-Wellington area, they are likely to encounter a Geriatric Emergency Management (GEM) nurse. They are trained to identify seniors at risk, and link them with community service agencies.

"We try to keep them at home as long as possible, and to avoid emergency admissions and re-admissions," said Nora Bamsey, a GEM nurse from North Wellington. It is part of the Local Health Integration Network's Aging at Home initiative. The issues can include falling, over-medication, underlying health conditions, caregiver burnout and lack of in-home help. Check the website:

Not all of the displays were about seniors needing help. Many seniors are active in providing help to others. For example, the Volunteer Centre of Guelph/Wellington has many opportunities – call 519-822-0912 or go to

Of course, the East Wellington Family Health Team had a display to promote its community workshops, including Better Sleep, Stress Management, Weight Loss, Diabetes Management, Healthy Living and Meal Planning. One upcoming event is Eat Well - Age Well: Senior Friendly Ideas for Healthy Eating, September 29, 10 am to noon, at Centre 2000. Go to

One of the business displays was from the Lord Dufferin Centre Seniors' Residence in Orangeville. It is owned by Erna Baniulis (a resident there) with her daughter Donna and son-in-law Dave Holwell. They are planning a new "life lease" adult lifesyle condo development in downtown Orangeville. For details, call 519-943-0847 or go to

Just one more website. While poking about on-line, I came across an interesting lecture on living a long, high-quality life. Go to and check out "Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+".

August 18, 2010

Family Health Team offers counselling service

As published in The Erin Advocate

Access to counselling help has become quicker and simpler for patients of the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT).

With new staff and a range of services, doctors can now refer people to local professionals for help with issues like grief, life transitions, drug and alcohol problems, conflicts at home or work, depression, stress, anxiety and chronic illness.

"People go to the doctor's office for everything else," said Kim Bell, Mental Health Worker and Program Lead with the team. "It's regular people with life issues that we are seeing."

She says if a condition is interfering with a person's ability to enjoy life, they can decide to view it as a something to be treated, not a weakness to be hidden. In fact, she has been impressed with the strength of many patients, in light of the stresses they have endured.

One in five people will personally experience a mental illness during their lifetime, but if the current trend continues, two-thirds of those will not seek help, said Bell.

She was previously a program manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). "Society does not view mental health like, for example, diabetes," she said. The stigma attached to these problems often serves to make them worse.

Mental illness can affect people in all age groups, regardless of their income level, education, cultural background or level of intelligence. The CMHA says about 8 per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia each affects about 1 per cent of Canadians. Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16 per cent among 25-44 year olds.

Counselling is available at EWFHT for individuals, families, and occasionally short-term groups, but only for patients of doctors on the team. Patients take an active role in the process, setting goals and making decisions about treatment. It is not a crisis service – urgent cases are referred to other agencies.

There is no waiting list, so getting the first appointment (day or evening) normally takes only from a few days to a few weeks. The service is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, so there are no costs to the patient. The health team approach is designed to provide more options for doctors and more local treatment for patients.

Michele Ross-Miller joined the team in February as a full-time mental health therapist, after working as a family counsellor in Guelph. I asked her what she finds satisfying in dealing with people facing major stress in their lives.

"There are a great variety of issues, and at times it is frustrating, but there is always something that people take away," she said. "People are often relieved that there is someone there to listen to them and understand. It makes a big difference in their lives, but change comes slowly."

Some people may need to see a psychiatrist, but this service is not offered at EWFHT, and a referral can take more than nine months, said Bell. In any case, a psychiatrist may not do the longer-term therapy or counselling. Often they do assessments and prescribe medication, but the patient remains primarily in the care of the family doctor and mental health workers.

EWFHT has started an initiative with the Ontario Telemedicine Network, using two-way video-conferencing. Each Friday, a doctor in Hamilton who specializes in geriatric psychiatry sets aside time to "see" patients in Erin – without long waits or travelling. They see each other on video screens and have a discussion, with local staff providing assistance. "Patients have responded positively," said Bell.

For people without a local doctor, publicly funded help is available through Trellis Mental Health and Developmental Services, with offices in Guelph, Orangeville, Fergus, Mount Forest and Kitchener. Go to, or to speak with an information and referral worker, call 519-821-3582. There are also various private counselling services, though these can be expensive if not covered by a group insurance plan.

Also offered by EWFHT, and open to everyone in the community, are workshops related to mental health. Go to for details on the Stop Worrying sessions to be held next March, which provide tips to help people understand and modify harmful worrying behaviour.

There is also an eight-week group program on Relaxation and Stress Management Skills Training, which can help in the self-regulation of headaches, muscle tension, insomnia and anxiety. It will be held on Monday nights in Erin starting October 18, and Tuesday nights in Rockwood starting January 4. Register on the website, or call 519-833-7576, ext. 224.

August 11, 2010

Porcupine's Quill supports Canadian visual artists

As published in The Erin Advocate

One of the rewards of doing this column is the opportunity to interview writers and artists who have taken on remarkable projects, satisfying their own passions while reaching out to the public. It gives one a touch of envy, a reminder that value lies not in what you intend to do, but in what you actively pursue.

Richard Nevitt lives in Alton, and in 2008 published A Caledon Sketchbook with Porcupine's Quill in Erin. He has retired from 40 years of teaching at the Ontario College of Art, but still works at his home studio and gives workshops at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg.

The book is a journal of 60 pen and ink drawings, based on sketches that capture "chance moments of solitude" and the spiritual power of the Niagara Escarpment landscape. He was signing copies during the recent Doors Open event.

Early in his career, he studied art as applied to anatomy and medicine, which expanded his creative vision, and he went on to work in a variety of media. In 1968 the Canadian Government invited him to document peace-keeping activities with the Canadian Armed Forces in Cyprus.

"I draw every day," he said. "It is important to be observant. I extend my observations of anatomy into landscapes. It's learning how to look at things and bring out their strengths."

McMichael Executive Director Tom Smart said, "In the turn of a line, a scrap of contour, an oblique hint of mass, form and volume, Nevitt lends his subjects a living quality, a breath of life and of vitality."

Nevitt's great grandfather, Richard Barrington Nevitt, was a doctor, artist and journalist who came to Toronto from the Confederate South. He went to Alberta in 1874 as an assistant surgeon with the North-West Mounted Police, and documented the plight of the Blackfoot natives.

Nevitt is appreciative that publishers like Porcupine's Quill and organizations such as Headwaters Arts ( have helped create "a dynamic support system for the arts".

In addition to fiction and poetry, Porcupine's Quill has often published books that support the visual arts, especially serving the niche market for reproductions of wood engravings. Their newest offerings include a collection of engravings called A Calendar of Days by various artists, and Book of Hours, a graphic novel by George Walker which traces, without words, the routines of daily life in the hours before the 9/11 attacks.

"The art books give a voice to the artists that they wouldn't otherwise have," said Tim Inkster, who puts his own artistic flair into the design and production of books, giving them a traditional, textured look and feel. Their equipment is traditional as well, with a Baumfolder folding machine dating back to the '40s and a Smyth book binding sewing machine from 1907.

In 2008, Tim and Elke Inkster were appointed to the Order of Canada for their contributions to Canadian publishing and promotion of new authors.

The other interesting conversation I had at the publishing shop was with Jane Lind, a writer, editor and sculptor who is passionate about the work of Canadian experimental filmmaker and visual artist Joyce Wieland (1931-1998).

"I am mainly interested in stories of women artists who have really developed their creative lives," said Lind, who published a biography in 2001: Joyce Wieland - Artist on Fire. A preview of that book can be seen on the Google Books website.

Wieland made an impact on the art world in Canada and New York, from the '60s to the '80s, with avant garde work that celebrated the surge in feminist sentiment, while making use of traditional female crafts such as quilting. It is an unusual blend of sexuality, politics and patriotism. A highlight of her career was True Patriot Love, an exhibition in 1971 at the National Gallery of Canada – the first such show devoted to a living Canadian female artist.

"She was a pioneer for women's place in the art world," said Lind. "She pokes fun at the weird things people do, and how foolish politicians can be in their obsession with power."

Lind, who lives in Guelph, has now published a follow-up book, with Porcupine's Quill. Joyce Wieland: Writings and Drawings, is an eclectic selection of drawings, journal entries and stream-of-consciousness poetry from 1952 to 1971, drawn from the archives at York University. It reveals the aspirations and struggles of a woman in a male-dominated field.

The introduction to the book provides sufficient background, so that it is is not necessary to read the published biography to appreciate the work. Lind hopes that it will help renew some interest in Wieland with scholars, art historians and the public.

August 04, 2010

Make CVC report public before election campaign

As published in The Erin Advocate

Should Erin's Vision Statement say we want "many" residents employed locally? Or would "more" be sufficient? How about "most"? Such questions were debated by the Town's SSMP Liaison Committee, when it met recently after a seven-month break.

Does "a town to call home" sound too obvious? Would it be better to say "safe and livable community"? It is all very interesting, but the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) needs to get on with its primary mandate: the pros and cons of sewers.

The Liaison Committee has drifted through a visioning-educational-background phase, including a "mind-mapping" exercise – drawing lines between coloured ovals on a giant issues chart.

Consulting firm B.M. Ross was hired in 2008 to coordinate the SSMP project, with costs expected to exceed $400,000. They are delivering what the Town requested: a broad-based study, looking 25 years into the future. The time has come, however, to move beyond the fluffy stuff.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has completed an important report on the environmental impact of having (or not having) a sewer system. The report was expected in January, but was not delivered to the Town until May. That put much of the SSMP process on hold.

The report is not being kept secret, but we are not allowed to read it yet. Project Manager Matt Pearson said only that the CVC appears willing to have the Credit River used to handle the discharge from a sewage system.

The report is locked in the gears of the study process, and is scheduled for release as an appendix to a larger background report early in the fall. That could be delayed. In the meantime, we have a municipal election on October 25, with people getting their mail-in ballots in late September.

The next town council is not expected to oversee any actual sewer construction, but there will be important decisions. If they make the commitment, there will be densities to be negotiated with residential developers, considered key to financing the project. How will sewers be phased in? What technology will be used for the sewage treatment plant? Will sludge from the plant be spread on farm fields as fertilizer? Will the same plant serve Hillsburgh? Where will they build the plant? (The north side of the Deer Pit is one possibility.)

We need to start discussing specific issues about how to service the urban areas, and the best place to start is the CVC report. There should be a thorough debate during the municipal election campaign about sewers, environmental protection, housing development and preserving Erin's charm. That will be very difficult without knowing the details of the report.

Normally, it would be sufficient to have the CVC report released in due course. But with the election imminent, I think the report should be made public on its own, by releasing it to the Liaison Committee at its August 25 meeting.

If this cannot be arranged, Town Council should consider intervening in the process. Councillors could be provided with the Executive Summary and Recommendations of the report, so they know what they are dealing with. Then, at their August 24 meeting, they could officially receive the full report and authorize its immediate release.

I am sure the report will be complex, and analysis by our consultants will be of great value. However, I see no harm in getting information out to the public so they can have a basic understanding of the environmental issues before the election campaign. It will enable candidates to take positions and could even prompt some people to run for council.

During the election campaign, what will candidates say to residents who have waste seeping up in their back yards from broken-down septic systems? (Buy an expensive new system designed to last 30 years, or wait for the big pipe?)

What will they say to residents concerned about employers being forced to leave Erin due to lack of services? Or to seniors forced to leave due to lack of housing. Or to those concerned about pollution of ground water and the Credit River? After so many years without progress on this issue, will it be enough to say, "We're doing a study..."?

The Town plans to mail a newsletter on the SSMP to all households in early September. Sometime in the fall, there will be a public meeting to discuss the background report. The final report, originally expected by this December, may not be ready until late next year.

Most residents are cynical about the whole process, if they even know about it. The public is not clamouring for a sewer system. The majority are rural residents who will never get the service. Many urban dwellers are either dead against it, or very reluctant. The fact that little appears to be happening is just fine for some.

The SSMP process allows the Town to go nice and slow, while still being able to assure the Ministry of the Environment that they are working on it.

I know it is the middle of the summer, and people may not want to think about the election. But I do appeal to those who would like to see the CVC report released early to make their voices heard in the next couple of weeks. We need a good debate during the election campaign, and for that we need solid information.