New Brunswick

'Un-retired' senior is 'loving life' as personal support worker

A 75-year-old Fredericton woman who says she loves her many paid and unpaid jobs, including being a personal support worker, is one of a growing number of New Brunswick seniors rejoining the labour force.

'Find something you love to do and then get paid for it,' says Beth McDermott, 75, of Fredericton

Beth McDermott, 75, says she loves interacting with residents of the seniors apartment complex in Fredericton where she is employed as a personal support worker. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

You'd never guess her age to look at her, but Beth McDermott just turned 75.

The Fredericton woman sets a pace that many, much younger, people would find difficult to match.

She has two part-time jobs that keep her busy for full-time hours, plus several volunteer positions, and she runs her own business.

"I don't look at it as work. You call it work, but it's not, you know. I'm just living the life. I'm unretired."

McDermott is one of a growing number of New Brunswick seniors in the workforce.

According to Statistics Canada, 14,285 New Brunswickers over age 65 were working in 2016.

That increased from 9,455 in 2005.

McDermott said she thinks many more seniors would enjoy going back to work.

McDermott visits with Kay Ackerson at St. Anne's Court. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

And the New Brunswick economy may need them to do so.

A labour force outlook prepared by the New Brunswick government projects a 30 per cent reduction in the number of people available to support seniors in the next seven years.

In the health-care and social assistance sectors, 24,500 job openings are expected.

One of McDermott's jobs is being a personal support worker for Wellness Connections at St. Anne's Court, a retirement community in Fredericton. 

She helps residents take their medication, cares for their wounds and ostomies, "anything that they would have in the line of medical treatment that can be done by them, but maybe they're at the point in life, health-wise, that they can't do it themselves and they need assistance."

Beth McDermott, 75, says she loves interacting with residents of the seniors apartment complex in Fredericton where she is employed as a personal support worker. 1:00

She also fills in as manager of Wellness Connections, as needed.

Her other part-time job is being the administrator of the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Condominium Institute, a national association of condominium owners.

She does a number of newsletters for condo corporations through her business.

A 'Jane of all trades'

Her volunteer positions include being vice-president of the Irish Canadian Cultural Association New Brunswick chapter, and secretary of that group's provincial board. She's chair of the board for Recycle NB, a canvasser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Alzheimer Society, a New Brunswick Liberal Association volunteer and vice-president of Fredericton's Professional Business Group of Rotary International.

"I'm sort of a Jane of all trades," McDermott said.

She has worked at St. Anne's Court for almost 10 years now.

"I'm the oldest one there. I guess that's why the seniors like me — because I'm a senior too. We seem to get along really well."

Ninety-seven-year-old Kay Ackerson calls McDermott a "ray of sunshine" and says the personal support worker is helping her as she tries to regain some mobility. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"She's a sweetheart," said 97-year-old Kay Ackerson, who is recovering from pneumonia. "I call her my little wild Irish rose. 

"She's been very good to me. She comes in. She takes my support hose off. And she took me for a walk last night. I'm just starting to get my walking back.

"Anything concerning vision — if I need to have my menu read or something like that. She's just a ray of sunshine coming into your room."

McDermott said she sometimes hears from younger workers who aren't sure whether they're in the right line of work.

Her advice is, "'If you don't like your job, you'd best move on to another job or another career path … because it's really important. It comes across if you're happy or not.'"

She clearly loves her work and thinks the residents appreciate it.

"They know that when I go in, I'm happy to be there. I'm not going in for the paycheque. It makes a big difference."

"I do get paid for it, but I did tell my boss jokingly that I would do it for nothing."

Wellness Connections nurse administrator Teena Canavan says McDermott is one of her best employees and relates well to her clients, at least partly because she's closer to them in age. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"Everyone loves Beth," said nurse administrator Teena Canavan. 

"Beth just is a great person to be around. She loves people. She can talk to anyone about anything."

"She is a great worker. … She is actually one of my best employees. ... She's very good at her job."

Canavan said when McDermott first applied to work at Wellness Connections what most caught her attention on a long and impressive resumé was that she had listed her hobbies.

"You don't see that very often anymore," said Canavan.

And one of those hobbies was taffy pulling.

"I didn't even know what that was. I had to ask my grandmother."

Updated her credentials

Canavan was also impressed that McDermott had taken the personal support worker course later in life.

McDermott said she thinks she may be the oldest graduate of the New Brunswick Community College's health-care aide program.

She got her upgraded certification a few years ago to meet new provincial requirements.

"My friends told me, 'Beth, you are crazy. Why would you want to go to community college and do this and just get out and maybe have a year to work?'

"I said, 'The year is going to go by anyway. I'll still have my job. I'll do what I love to do and I'll have a certificate.'"

"I try to learn something new every day … so you can just imagine how smart I think I am — joking, joking!"

McDermott originally trained for this type of work through the Victorian Order of Nurses so she could do some part-time home support with children, giving respite to single parents. At the time, she was still working full time for the province.

She had decided to take on a part-time job to help her son pay for his post-graduate studies. (He got his PhD without a student loan and is now an evolutionary psychologist.)

As a personal support worker, McDermott helps residents who need assistance get to organized activities and social gatherings. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

As it happened, McDermott was taking university courses herself, through a provincial management development program.

McDermott's "varied" career went from data entry clerk, when the Medicare system started up in St. John's, N.L., to running group homes for youth in Nova Scotia and Fredericton and to managing a motel for a year, before she entered the New Brunswick civil service.

She spent 25 years working for the provincial government, rising through the ranks to director of administration, looking after branches in the Department of Supply and Services.

Some people tell me, 'I'm not enjoying retirement as much as I thought I would, but I don't want to admit it because everyone seems to be enjoying retirement.' No, everyone isn't enjoying retirement.- Beth McDermott

She was offered an early retirement package in 2002 and took it.

"I decided I was young and healthy enough to go into doing something else, and I always wanted to start my own business." BethMc Solutions is the company she started.

Both of her jobs are through contracts.

Occasionally, she's been accused of "taking jobs away" from younger people.

"Usually, I can work circles around the person that's saying this," McDermott said.

Her standard response is, "'I've got three jobs right now. Which one does some of your family or some of your friends want? I'd be glad to give one up.'"

Although she doesn't do it for the money, thanks to her government pension, she does think personal support workers should be better paid, especially those who provide home care.

"They have a lot of responsibility ... I think they should get ample pay for it. And there's such a need."

Matthew (Prem) Premkumar, executive director of St. Anne's Court, says McDermott is a very reliable and valuable member of his team. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Executive director Matthew (Prem) Premkumar said he's glad to have McDermott as part of the team at St. Anne's Court.

"I can always depend on her, always rely on her judgment. And she's such a fun-loving person to be around."

Premkumar said he's had good experience with other employees who are seniors, as well.

Their bus driver is one of them, a 68-year-old former tourism operator from Grand Manan.

"If you're active and keep on doing what you want, then it's good for the mind, body, soul and spirit," Premkumar said.

McDermott does travel a bit to visit family and friends in the United Kingdom and the United States, but there's not much else about her life that you might think of as typical for a retired person.

"Well, I had lunch with some friends the other day at least," she said.

But it's a challenge to find free time in her schedule.

"I'm like Garth Brooks's 'Honey can you squeeze me in?'"

Lots of energy for work

It's no life of leisure, but McDermott said it works for her because she's healthy and energetic.

"People will say, 'Beth, I have no idea how you do that. It makes me tired listening to you.'"

She admitted her lifestyle is not for everyone but said she thinks many more seniors would benefit from returning to the workplace.

"Some people tell me, 'I'm not enjoying retirement as much as I thought I would, but I don't want to admit it because everyone seems to be enjoying retirement.' No, everyone isn't enjoying retirement.

"When you walk out that door, new doors are going to open."

About the Author

Jennifer Sweet is a reporter with CBC based in Fredericton. She can be reached at 451-4176 or jennifer.sweet@cbc.ca.

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