February 12, 2021
Get to Know Us: Nicole Downes

The Coordinator of LOFT’s White Squirrel Way program advocates for clients who face discrimination and speaks to the importance of celebrating Black Canadians.

Employed at LOFT for over twelve years, Nicole supports some of the most vulnerable adults and seniors in our community as they leave hospitals and move into long-term care.  Many of Nicole’s clients have mental health and addiction issues in addition to physical challenges. LOFT’s White Squirrel Way provides a safe and supportive place for them to build their strength and endurance as they transition to a new environment. 

“We give them a buffer,” explains Nicole.  “We get our clients used to a different level of independence, easing them back into life and teaching them how to manage their own health.  Without that intervening period, we’re setting them up for failure.”

One of Nicole’s many duties involves connecting her clients with long-term care facilities or supportive housing.  This can be a challenging task.  “Discrimination exists against people with a mental health diagnosis. Some facilities are unwilling to accommodate them because of their medical history,” Nicole says. “I’ve had people waiting to be placed in long-term care for 10 years with no explanation as to why they keep being bypassed. Many of them end up in hospitals, sometimes for years. There are simply not enough supportive housing options available to our clients.”

Nicole’s passion is evident, and she speaks up for those in her care.  “Most of our clients have no family members to advocate for them. That’s when we step in,” she says.  “We are the ones calling the hospital to make sure they are getting the help that they need.  We are the ones asking long-term care facilities to see the person, not the diagnosis.”

The pandemic has been difficult.  “We serve people with mental health challenges who are distressed because they don’t understand what’s happening,” she explains, and Nicole has nothing but admiration for the staff at White Squirrel Way.  She has witnessed team members unable to return home, choosing instead to isolate in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “What inspires me most is my team’s dedication and their good heart,” says Nicole. “I feel humbled that, rather than refusing to work during the pandemic, they have chosen to show a level of dedication that I could never have imagined.”

In honour of Black History Month, this February LOFT asked some of our staff to voice their thoughts on the importance of the date. Nicole believes that it is important to celebrate the contributions made by Black people in our society.  By doing so, we can promote inclusion and acknowledge the challenges faced by this population.  “Last year was really tough for my community,” she states.   “We were bombarded with the bad. Black History Month gives us the important opportunity to take a breath, remember the good, and celebrate it.”

LOFT’s White Squirrel Way program supports patient transitions from the hospital to short-term transitional care units in the community that provide a safe and supportive place to help patients increase strength, mobility and endurance to support their transition home or into an alternative care setting.