Throughout 2020, we will be highlighting the Queen Silvia Nursing Awards partners that bring the scholarship to life in their respective regions.

Currently in its 6th year, The Queen Silvia Nursing Award motivates nursing students in Germany, Finland, Poland and Sweden to contribute to the quality of life and care of the elderly and people living with a dementia diagnosis. This program is made possible by the dedication and commitment of partners with a firm focus on the growth of nursing talent and nursing opportunities.

This week, we spoke with Folkhälsan’s Kira Exell Paakki, Head of Housing and Social Services, about her organization’s engagement with the Queen Silvia Nursing Award in Finland. Folkhälsan is a Finnish non-profit organization operating in the field of social and health services. Folkhälsan employs around 1300 people and its local associations across Swedish-speaking Finland have almost 19000 members.

Kira, please tell us about your role as Head of Housing and Social Services at Folkhälsan?

I have been at Folkhälsan for 11 years as of May 2020. During this time, I’ve focused almost exclusively on elderly housing and subsequent services for the elderly. Most of the persons we serve are elderly and many are experiencing some stage of cognitive decline. For us at Folkhälsan, it is critical that we work closely with our teams and the people living in Folkhälsan houses to create service offerings that lift life quality for everyone involved within the care circle. This naturally includes the elderly themselves, but also their family members and friends, as well as our teams. My role at Folkhälsan is extremely interesting and dynamic since we collaborate with a lot of stakeholders to ensure positive human impact.

The human interaction on this side of the care spectrum is deeply human-driven and meaningful.

Kira Exell Paakki, Head of Housing and Social Services, Folkhälsan

How have things changed within elderly housing and services in Finland over the years?

The population is ageing and the need for service, care and nursing for the elderly is growing rapidly. There is a lot of pressure on all of us – osciety, service providers, policy makers, caregivers – to keep up with the care needs for our elderly in Finland. In light of that, care is developing from nursing homes to more modern methods.

The Finnish government’s largest-ever proposed social and healthcare reform (SOTE) is still in process and the outcome is not quite clear yet. One change that is clear and already happening is that the elderly will have increased right to choose by themselves in which residential accommodation or nursing home they wish to reside once the need is stated by their municipality of residence. Folkhälsan offers different kinds of homes for the elderly, based on their need for care.

Another way in which we are trying to address the needs of Finland’s growing elderly population is via home care. In the last few years, there has been a major increase in the request for this type of service. Ageing at home is greater than ever before and there have been interesting innovations of this service. For example, home care has incorporated digital elements to ease the workflow and information for teams. But fundamentally, each home caregiver must find a balance with every person (s)he comes across. We find the person-centered approach required in home care extremely important, so this must be taken into account whenever one of our team members provides assistance. We know that each one of us has individual preferences in how we want things cooked, or how things should be kept tidy, not to mention personal hygiene. Relying on a home caregiver to assist in these very personal tasks is a leap of faith for the client, and it is something that we must be able to meet with respect.

But home care isn’t just task-based work. Home care also has a beautiful social element that needs to be highlighted. Our professionals are providing something much deeper and more meaningful than only assistance. They are bringing a lot of social interaction and safety that Finnish seniors might not necessarily have anymore. Social isolation is increasing rapidly in elderly communities worldwide, and we need to combat that early on to avoid any serious consequences later. Home care allows our aging communities to enjoy staying at home longer, safe in the knowledge that there are professionals who are checking in and ensuring that they are not left on their own.

Are there any challenges or risks that Folkhälsan has seen with the changing requirements of Finland’s elderly community?

Yes – the biggest challenge is talent. The entire sector of care is under pressure to find talent. We have excellent, dedicated personnel today, and we are very grateful for their commitment to elderly care. Unfortunately, they are retiring at a faster rate than the number of new talent coming into the field. This isn’t just a Finland problem. Every country around the world is facing this struggle and it’s not abating.

In order to ensure that new care professionals are aware that they can make a meaningful impact, contribute to and develop the elderly care narrative, FH has been a proud partner of bringing the QSNA to Finland since 2014. If we want nursing students to know about the opportunities they have to impact care, then we have to work together to make this field as interesting and attractive as possible.

The thing about elderly and dementia care is that what you put is what’s given back – 10 fold. The human interaction on this side of the care spectrum is deeply human-driven and meaningful. But it really requires the engagement and enthusiasm of nurses with a passion for making lasting connections with the people they help and interact with. The Queen Silvia Nursing Award helps us leverage this into the nursing community.

Folkhälsan’s Brummerska hemmet in Helsinki, Finland

How has Folkhälsan helped previous Queen Silvia Nursing Award Finland winners in the past?

Last year’s winner, Maiju Björkqvist, was able to realise her idea here with us! Maiju’s winning idea was to establish a room in which guests living with dementia might be able to engage safely with a variety of household items. She had noticed in previous dementia facilities that the people there were trying various door handles trying to get into rooms, and they wanted to work with their hands. So Maiju furnished a facility with sheets, linens, towels, pillows – and other familiar safe or soft household items – that everyone was welcome to fold, move around, touch, and work with at their discretion.

We want nursing students to experience learning opportunities at Folkhälsan, where a framework is in place to be creative and passion about life-quality impact. Students can come up with an idea, and see it through to its fruition. At Folkhälsan, nursing students can make a big difference in elderly and dementia care, and we aim to nurture that enthusiasm.  

How does any organization get to the point in which they are able to create these opportunities for young talent?

Folkhälsan has been lucky enough to have managers and supervisors who are very keen to lift and motivate talent. Maiju, for example, realized her winning idea at Folkhälsan’s Espoo location with our manager Annika Wahén. Over the years, Annika has worked as a tireless mentor, lifting nursing talent time and again.

None of us can do this type of work alone. We all need to be surrounded by great people who do their jobs well. When this happens, an entire can be organization is elevated. I’m actually most proud of all the people that I get the opportunity to work with on these challenges at Folkhälsan. As a health-driven organization, a culture of caring is central to your mission. And at Folkhälsan, it is part of our value structure. Over time, we can make these into clear operational goals, with processes to measure and steps to follow-up, essentially practicing what we preach.

This can be tough, but it really is worth it. When it comes to elderly and dementia care, our emphasis is on “the good life” and life quality. We are all dedicated to extending the good times for the people we care for, even if they are getting a little older, and might be experiencing a certain stage of cognitive impairment. We want them to be comfortable being themselves, secure in knowing that they have a team of professionals at their side – ready to provide support at anytime.

With the right combination of competence, engagement and passion for care, we can work together to make life beautiful for the people we come into contact with.  

You mentioned competence – how important is dementia competence for the FH organization?

I can’t answer for the whole organization, but from the elderly care point of view, competence is indeed everything. As mentioned earlier, we have a lot of elderly in our facilities who are at some stage of cognitive decline. Knowledge, especially within dementia care, is critical if we want to stay true to our mission and ensure a high quality of life and care for the people we serve. That has also been central to Folkhälsan’s engagement with the Queen Silvia Nursing Award in Finland. Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden has always advocated for solid knowledge in dementia care, and this is something Folkhälsan wants to highlight for the next generation of nurses, so that we can together meet the demands of Finland’s rapidly ageing population.

Folkhälsan’s Esbohuset, Esbo, Finland

Where do you see Folkhälsan in the next 10 years?

For an organization to be agile, it has to be able to change, as well as be open to new ways of learning and sharing information. Society is changing so quickly – so we have to be adaptable while ensuring our central mission of care is crystal clear. Ageing challenges are not going away any time in the near future, but if we can secure young, enthusiastic and dedicated teams into our organization, then we can make that difference together.

Any message you would like to share with future Queen Silvia Nursing Award candidates who might want to apply with their idea to impact elderly and dementia care?

Yes! Give this spectrum of care a chance, even if only for a short while. I really encourage nursing students to think outside of the box and view elderly care through a lens of opportunity. Your enthusiasm, creativity and engagement is just what is needed for Finland’s elderly. And your potential to grow a sustainable career is unlimited.