When June Morris became the PARC Wellness Leader, it felt like destiny. With a decades-long career in holistic health, senior living, gerontology and nursing – and more than a decade as Summerhill PARC General Manager under her belt – she couldn’t have been a better fit for her new role.
Today, June is leading the way in keeping PARC Retirement Living residents independent and healthy, and taking PARC’s vibrant wellness culture to the next level. We sat down with June to get her take on senior wellness and her new role at PARC, in 2022 and beyond.
Can you tell us about your role as PARC’s Wellness Leader?
I’m working with the Wellness Nurses at each community, as a group and as individuals, to support them in their growth and the services that they’re providing. We’re also spending a lot of time and attention on preventing COVID in our communities right now, of course, but we’re looking at different ways residents can explore what wellness means to them, and what programs we can enhance and grow to build a vibrant, wellness-oriented environment for independent seniors.
How is PARC different than other independent living communities when it comes to wellness?
With other senior living communities, wellness is more of an activity, whereas at PARC, it’s a lifestyle and an experience. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, so we’re always trying to ensure residents enjoy a good quality of life. That’s why PARC has standardized four vital wellness pillars across all five of its properties: physical fitness, social programming and pursuits, nutritious food choices and emotional health and wellness. We take a multidimensional outlook on living well as you age.
Looking at your time as General Manager of Summerhill PARC, can you recall any wellness success stories?
So many, so many. I was there for 13 years. If only I had a dime for every time someone said, “If I’d known it was this good, I would have moved in a long time ago.” I think about the friendships I’ve seen develop. People become friends and then they look out for each other, and they plan parties and dinner dates. They get dressed up, go out and socialize, they laugh, and they care about one other. They see each other through ups and downs, and that’s just so heartwarming. I can think of one gentleman who started a fitness program. He started walking every day and lost a significant amount of weight. His physician couldn’t believe how well he was doing. He eventually took on leadership roles in the community, and he was such a positive influence on the rest of the residents.
What are the biggest misconceptions about independent living and wellness?
I always struggle a little bit with the word misconception. I think of it more as an information gap. Independent living is something most people don’t really know a lot about. When we think about senior living, we often think of the care aspect – somebody who can’t live alone anymore and needs assistance with daily tasks and routines. Whereas independent living is more of a lifestyle choice that you make when you’re still able to care for yourself, but you may not be getting quite as much out of life as you used to.
What kind of role does independence play in wellness?
I always think about what “independent” really means. Are you independent just because you’re living in your own home? Yet you’re using up all your time and energy just to get through the day, worried about where the groceries are going to come from? Are you going to eat a good meal? Is your family worried about you and checking in and, needing to provide a lot of services for you? In an independent living community, most services are provided so you and your family feel a peace of mind that everything is taken care of, eliminating potential tension in your family dynamics. Knowing those needs are taken care of, you can think about enjoying a healthy more vibrant life, making some new friends, trying out a gentle yoga class or playing bridge, for instance.
What are some other important elements of wellness for seniors?
I like to leave the age and generational piece out of it, and just take all of the best ideas about what wellness could mean to anyone. I was involved in the holistic health movement in the late 70s and found that moving from an acute-care setting into a more community-based setting allowed me to look more at wellness, health promotion and prevention – living well as opposed to the illness model of health care. Why wait until people are sick? I think it’s really important that we experience a good quality life and slow declining health. If we take a holistic approach to wellness, we’re creating an experience, and excitement about what’s possible. Each day is a new opportunity and an adventure.
How important is the social aspect of independent living?
Especially in COVID times, when people become less mobile, it becomes more difficult to meet up with friends and make new friends. There are a whole lot of reasons people may become more socially isolated as they get older. We know that social isolation can lead to cognitive decline, emotional decline and more, but at PARC, the moment you come out of your apartment you’re in the center of a community. You have your peers all around you. That social piece is so powerful. I think about the difference between someone who is living at home alone, not having a lot of social contact, basically just waiting to hear from their kids. At PARC, family members often called in to say, “My mom isn’t answering her phone, have you seen her?” And I’d respond, “Well, I’m not sure, I saw her earlier at cards, and I know she’s having lunch with the girls and signed up for a yoga class later; let me check for you.” There are many opportunities for residents to be social and participate in programs.
Can you talk about some of the other aspects of wellness at PARC?
Well, we’ve talked about PARC Social. Then there’s PARC Fit. Fitness, we know, is use it or lose it. If we’re doing physical activities like building strength and working on balance, we can prevent falls. And some of the PARC programs, like yoga, can help create a mind-body connection. Often, we’re not connected to our bodies as we’re aging. We think, “I want to forget that my shoulder hurts today.” So we ignore it, and then at some point, we’re not able to move. Whereas if we can get more connected with our body, we can help it function better and be more aware. A physical movement class is also social. Feeling alive and experiencing new things with friends positively affects the mind and body. For the same reasons, we also hold music and art programs – in lively small groups where residents can socialize while learning.
How do PARC’s Wellness Nurses support residents’ health and well-being?
As partners. Often, our Wellness Nurses meet potential residents and their families before move-in, to help identify needs and expectations. Then, as a resident’s health changes, the PARC Wellness Nurse can be a partner in those conversations. They can also make recommendations if someone needs third-party support, such as for a short-term illness. And then, if somebody isn’t able to have their needs met in our environment, we can help the resident and their family explore other options.
What role does PARC Food play in residents’ wellness?
Food can make a huge difference to wellness. We’re always trying to make sure we offer a wide variety of food options for our residents – comfort food and modern cuisine, plus healthy choices, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and portion-controlled meals that are adapted to a senior’s changing appetite. On any given day, the healthy options might include home-made soups, leafy salads, pastas, fresh local fish and meats and other delicious proteins, vegetarian entrées, and our famous PARC Smart options which are high in phytonutrients and low in sodium, saturated fats and sugars. The other big attraction of PARC dinners and lunches is that the residents are sitting with other people and having fun. This social aspect ensures they’re connecting back with the community again and again.
All these little puzzle pieces, along with the four pillars, come together to create what we call PARC Wellness. It’s one of the richest and most lifestyle-oriented visions of wellness I’ve experienced. Yet it’s also uniquely tailored to our residents as unique as each senior who lives at PARC.