COVID mask fitting

Get your mask tested for COVID season

It’s the only way to know — for sure — if you’re protected

Knowing your mask is worth wearing means having it tested. 

Gaye Moffett has been conducting these tests for more than 20 years and has fit-tested more than 50,000 people. She learned how in 2003 when the original coronovirus landed in Canada: SARS.

It’s one reason her staff were outfitted with masks that met that standard throughout the pandemic, but Moffett says this test isn’t just for healthcare providers.

GEM will test anyone who wants to ensure their mask has the quality and fit they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Which mask do I need?

The key to ensuring your mask works is material and fit.

Cloth masks — as well as the blue surgical masks — won’t cut it.

What you need is an N95 mask that has been fitted to your face. Moffett recommends 3M manufactured N95 masks, the company that invented the test during SARS.

She cautions against using similar products, but says some can still work with an adjustment.

“While the KN95 masks can be effective, we found that the straps were failing,” said Moffett. “But if it’s what you have on hand, you can wear an ear protector to extend the life of the straps and make it more comfortable.”

How do I know if my mask works?

There are two aspects to a functioning mask: materials and fit.

The test 3M invented for their own products involves using a spray that doesn’t smell very good. 

“It’s Bitrex, the same non-toxic but bitter-tasting substance people use to stop biting their fingernails,” said Moffett.

Anyone wearing a cloth or blue surgical mask can detect the bitter scent because those masks don’t provide an adequate seal. 

And if someone wearing an N95 mask can smell it, there’s a problem with fit.

Who can get their mask tested?

During the pandemic, GEM tested masks largely for healthcare and construction workers.

Today, people who need the test may be living or working with someone who’s vulnerable to COVID, or vulnerable themselves.

That’s why any member of the public can get their mask tested for a fee. Getting tested costs $64.50 if you bring your own mask, and $70 when you buy a mask from GEM.

“The entire process takes 20 minutes from start to finish,” said Moffett. 

The only masks GEM tests are: 

  • 3M™ full and half 6100 mask series
  • P100 North full and half mask Series
  • Scott AV 3000 respirator

Contact GEM to set up an appointment with their mask-fitting clinic on Tuesdays and Fridays.

An elderly man shows a young man his ipad screen

How to talk to your family about future planning

“The only way I’m leaving my home is in a pine box,” is what people often say when the topic of future planning is broached, no matter how sensitively or carefully.

Gaye Moffet’s response to that comment is, “Okay. Let’s plan for that.” 

Because the only way to truly safeguard our autonomy and independence as we age-in-place is to have a plan.

Fortunately there are tools we can use to make sure we’re taken care of the way we want. That said, it’s not an easy topic to broach with your family over dinner. 

Here are a few tips to be proactive when it’s time to start this difficult conversation.

Keep it practical: start with low hanging fruit

Before delving into any conversations about home care or long-term care, start by encouraging or helping your loved one choose their Powers of Attorney, including a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property.

Designating a trusted person who will respect your wishes if you’re unable to make them yourself is the best way to prevent the government from stepping in and taking over. 

Inviting your loved ones to talk about Powers of Attorney can also open the door to completing other documents, like advance directives and a will.

What’s critical is keeping your loved one’s wishes at the heart of the conversation and emphasizing that writing them down will make it easier for someone else to know and respect what they want. 

Respond quickly during crucial moments

Often the first big loss of autonomy and independence comes when a doctor has to suspend a patient’s driver’s licence for safety reasons.

It’s a big blow, but it could be a chance for the family to come together to make sure their loved one will get what they need and stay engaged with the community.

It can also be the catalyst to talk about downsizing and moving closer to family, or possible to an easy-to-manage residence with the amenities they need.

And if the rest of your family isn’t engaged in future planning yet, moments like this can be a good time to pull them in so everyone is thinking about how they can help. 

Getting everyone involved will prevent caregiver burnout and possibly another crisis where your loved one’s choices are suddenly limited.

Continuing to emphasize that your loved one’s autonomy and independence is what’s most important. 

Connect and engage by listening first

While broaching the right topic at the right time is a good start, it can still be easy for emotions to get high. 

Gaye’s advice applies here as well: let’s plan for that.

Don’t forget that these are tough topics. The future we’re discussing is one where someone we love can’t live independently or worse, is no longer with us. Who wouldn’t get emotional? 

When feeling run high, we bring our own personality and ways of coping into the mix, whether it’s responding with anger, sadness, grief, or denial. These are just normal reactions to difficult situations, so don’t judge yourself or anyone else for how they’re reacting. 

Just know yourself and prepare, because what happens when we’re not grounded isn’t always pretty. We’re all capable of being patronizing, irritated, manipulative or dramatic. And it could lead us to call in reinforcements and make our loved one feel like we’re ganging up on them.

All that can be prevented by simply listening. 

Start by asking your loved one questions about what they want, then listen carefully and repeat back what was said so they know they’ve been heard before you weigh in with your own thoughts, opinions and needs. They’re important too, but your loved one needs to know they’re the one who’s in charge of what’s going to happen. You can show that by listening.

Other ways to keep the conversation constructive are:

  • using other people’s situation as an example
  • providing print materials so they have something to refer to while reflecting
  • writing down your concerns if having a conversation isn’t working
  • offering to help with research into their options
  • avoiding words like ‘a home’ or ‘nursing home’

Remember to ask for help if you need it

If you’ve tried everything and feel like you’ve hit a wall, it could be time to bring in a third-party expert who your loved one will trust to be neutral and provide straightforward, helpful information.

Gaye Moffett has been advising families with care planning for decades and has likely heard a story similar to yours.

You can get in touch with Gaye by calling 613-761-7474 in Ottawa or in 905-836-6999 in GTA.

A doctor holds their stethoscope to a graphic depicting the scales of justice.

Critical legislation changes just made home care safer in Ontario

As the founder of GEM Health Care Services and member of the board for Home Care Ontario, Gaye Moffett does a lot of advocacy work for her clients behind the scenes.

After spending the past few years lobbying the provincial and federal governments about three key pieces of legislation to keep clients safe and lower the cost of care, she’s happy to report a recent victory.

The Government of Ontario has passed legislation requiring Temporary Help Agencies to be licensed to continue their operations. 

The eligibility criteria to be licensed is stringent to protect both employees and clients, as well as preventing the loss of tax dollars. 

“We’re certainly in favour of this legislation,” said Moffett. “It stops people from putting up a ‘fly-by-night’ temp agency on Kijiji without any oversight or regulation.”

How do you get a licence?

The bar for a Temporary Help Agency to meet the licensing criteria includes:

  • CRA business number
  • WSIB certificate
  • Liability insurance and indemnification
  • Third party quality control, eg. ISO or other relevant certification
  • Criminal background and vulnerable population checks for all staff
  • Putting $25,000 in escrow to cover wages in the event of bankruptcy
  • Application fee of $750

How does this legislation help?

While the legislation protects temporary employees from unfair wages and exploitation in any industry or sector, it’s especially important for home care staffing agencies.

“Our clients are vulnerable and working conditions for our employees can be precarious due to the unpredictable nature of the work,” said Moffett. “They need a staffing agency that knows how to conduct a care assessment so that clients are getting what they need, and staff are being matched to the right clients on a consistent basis.”

Some online home care staffing agencies that call themselves a “matching platform” claim to lower costs by “avoiding overhead” (such as care assessment conducted by a licensed health care practitioner). 

These outfits will also need to apply for a licence before January 1, 2024 and meet the same criteria or face stiff penalties. The government started accepting applications in July, 2023.

“While temporary help agencies are vital to Ontario’s businesses and jobseekers looking to get their foot in the door, for too long they have operated in a grey zone that allows criminals to prey on vulnerable workers,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “Our government’s licensing system will ensure law-abiding businesses can have confidence in the THAs and recruiters they work with and that those who abuse workers face the harshest fines in Canada and are banned from operating in our province.”

How will it be enforced?

Penalties for contravening the act will be stiff, ranging from $15,000 for a first offense, to $25,000 for a second offense within three years of the first, and $50,000 for a third offense within the same three year period.

Officers will be looking for these contraventions:

  • operating as a temporary help agency without a licence
  • acting as a recruiter without a licence
  • clients knowingly using an unlicensed temporary help agency, or
  • employers, prospective employers or other recruiters knowingly engaging or using the services of an unlicensed recruiter

And if you’re wondering whether the staffing agency that’s sending your home care worker is licensed, you’ll be able to check with an online search of the government’s database.

Check out our other “Buyer Beware” posts for more tips on screening your caregivers for safety and security, as well as their qualifications.

in-home elder care

How to get the right mix of home care services with the resources you have

When the benefits of helping seniors stay at home are so clear, maximizing the home care services you can get with the resources you have makes perfect sense. 

Seniors who age-in-place hold onto their autonomy and independence longer because they’re in a familiar environment and maintain ties to their community. With the appropriate support, seniors can downsize at their own pace rather than being forced to move due to a crisis.

But navigating Ontario’s home care system isn’t as simple as picking up the phone and asking for help. That’s why Gaye Moffett, owner and operator of GEM Health Care Services, often hears from people who are just trying to figure out where to start. 

“This morning someone called and said her father is on a limited income, but needs help doing his housekeeping and laundry,” said Moffett. “I pointed her to the City of Ottawa’s Home Support Services so they can determine if he was eligible for the services they offer.”

Navigating a complex system to get the right mix of services

Moffett has been working in the home care sector long enough to know the ins and outs of navigating a complex system that’s always changing.

Whether you start in the public system or with family-funded home care services, you’ll probably need a bit of help to make sure you’ve got the right mix of services at the right time.

Moffett’s experience running GEM Health Care Services — which currently has a contract with the Ontario government to provide publicly funded, privately delivered services — is why she’s a master at this. 

“I often get people started with family-funded nursing care,” said Moffett. “But if they become eligible for public services, we can adjust their hours to make sure they have the right mix.”

Moffett leverages her nursing background to help her clients maximize their resources. “I once helped a client’s mother get her nursing care covered by writing their insurer a letter,” she said. “Her coverage said the services had to be medically necessary — as a nurse I was able to explain that a PSW can’t manage tube feeding and other care needs that she had.” 

So where should you start if you or your loved one needs home care to “age-in-place”? 

Asking yourself these questions will help point you in the right direction

  1. Are you eligible for publicly funded home-care services? Call Home and community services with the Ontario government to find out.
  2. Do your benefits cover homemaking, nursing or both? You need to ask your insurer how they define “medically necessary.” 
  3. How many family–funded hours do you really to supplement your public services? Talk to a veteran health professional like Moffett to find the right balance, and explain the difference between what’s medically necessary and what isn’t.

Whether you’re on a fixed income, have some benefits for private nursing through your employer, or have enough resources for family-funded nursing care, talking to someone who knows the system like Moffett can give you the confidence that you’re accessing the services you really need with the resources you have.