Moira Welsh, Randy Risling | Hillman Foundation

2019 Honourable Mention

Moira Welsh, Randy Risling
The Toronto Star

We all know, but we try not to think about it. Nursing homes are sterile, lonely places, where none of us would ever want to be. Moira Welsh spent 15 years writing about Ontario nursing homes for the Toronto Star, starting with a 2003 series uncovering abuse and neglect that led to new long-term care inspections and legislation. But problems continue to persist because it’s an institutional system that forces residents to live according to a strict daily schedule, and staff to be focused on tasks, not people.

In The Fix, Welsh and Risling got to tell a very different story about one Peel nursing home that took a gamble on fun, life and love. They showed that the most dangerous story they could tell is how simple it was to change.

In 2016, Welsh learned that Peel Region’s long-term care leaders wanted to improve the lives of their residents with dementia by taking a chance on a British nursing-home specialist and his Butterfly program. Welsh convinced Peel’s wary leaders to let her follow the 12-month program that promised a full transformation of culture, staff behaviour and the emotional happiness of residents.

Welsh and Risling were given full access to the Redstone unit. Their early reporting revealed the daily monotony and human neglect experienced by people living in long term care. Workers rushed from task to task, clocking in each one, too busy to make any emotional connection to the people in their care. As the Butterfly program unfolded, they documented the struggles that come with transformational change, but significantly, they showed that residents and staff blossomed when they were encouraged and allowed to live and work with freedom, emotional connection and purpose. The changes made a huge impression on family members as well.

Readers reacted with joy, saying the stories prove that long-term care can offer life and love. Toronto Mayor John Tory asked the city to consider similar changes for city-run nursing homes and the council voted unanimously to examine Butterfly-like programs. After reading the Star story, dozens of other homes and politicians have visited Redstone. And the inspiration reached beyond Ontario too.  A home in Atlanta, Ga., that followed Peel’s lead, shared the Star story with families and U.S. organizations. In Canada, the powerful seniors lobbying association CARP is now pushing provincial governments to help homes adopt emotion-focused programs like Butterfly. In Ontario, the two long-term care associations are lobbying the provincial government to find money in its 2019 budget to help the 630 homes adopt emotion-focused programs.

All these hopeful efforts to transform long-term care were inspired by the Star’s investigation into the positive. The Fix is a fresh, compelling narrative of risk, possibility, awakening, and most importantly, the importance of human connection.

Moira Welsh has been a journalist with the Toronto Star for 26 years. During that time she has covered breaking news, the environment and social justice beats and, as an investigative reporter, has long had an interest in issues related to people living in long term care and retirement homes. Moira has co-authored investigations that have won three National Newspaper Awards and a Michener Award for Public Service Journalism. She is now writing a book on innovative ways to live as people grow older. Moira lives in Toronto with her family.

Randy Risling is an award-winning videographer and photographer. Repeatedly, Randy’s work has been recognized at the national and international levels for his rare ability to combine stunning cinematography with solid storytelling. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, his work with the Star has taken him everywhere from Turkey and Somalia to Jamaica and China.