Female influencers answer the call at invite-only event hosted by Perley Health Foundation

Luncheon at Ottawa Art Gallery features all-female panel of experts in seniors' care and research

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Perley Health Foundation board chair Louise Mercier wasn’t dealing with her usual crowd when she welcomed nearly 30 women to an exclusive luncheon on Wednesday to showcase how the long-term care centre is transforming care for seniors and veterans in Ottawa and beyond.

The senior defence industry executive usually speaks to roomfuls of men.

“This is just so pleasant,” Mercier, senior vice-president at Rubicon Strategy, said with a laugh while looking out at an attentive crowd of women seated in the Ottawa Art Gallery’s sun-filled Jackson restaurant and café.

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The event was by invitation only for “people that we know, like and love … to help us get the message out about all the wonderful things that are happening at the Perley,” said Mercier.


These are innovative and exciting times for the newly rebranded Perley Health, formerly called the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre. The organization has raised $5.2 million of its $10-million Answering The Call campaign for its Centre of Excellence in Frailty-Informed Care to improve and influence care for older adults living at Perley and to share its findings with others.

Serving as the Commissionaires Ottawa research chair is Annie Robitaille, whose interest in aging, frailty and dementia started in high school, when she used to volunteer in retirement homes. She has since dedicated her career to researching a broad spectrum of issues related to the aging process. She holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Ottawa. 

Jenny Mitchell, an executive coach, fundraising professional and co-host of Your Next Fifty podcast, was the moderator of a panel discussion featuring Robitaille, Perley Health COO Mary Boutette and longtime volunteer Joan Olinik, whose father, a veteran of the Second World War, lived at the Perley for his last four years. Gordon Moore was 95 when he passed away in 2017.


Olinik’s daughter, Catherine McLaughlin from Terlin Construction, was in the audience, as were retired Lt-Col. Fran Chilton Mackay, honorary Lt-Col. Barbara Farber and Shirley Westeinde, a former honorary lieutenant colonel. Trinity Development Foundation manager Mariette MacIsaac, who’s part of the cabinet for the Answering The Call campaign, was seated at the luncheon next to Alexandra Badzak, CEO and director of the Ottawa Art Gallery. Guests also included Teresa Marques, president and CEO of Rideau Hall Foundation.

All attendees needed to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend the luncheon and were asked to keep their masks on until they were seated at their tables for lunch.


Perley Health is home to more than 600 seniors and veterans receiving long-term care or living in independent apartments. The waiting list to get into the Perley is currently more than 1,000 names long, the room heard.

“One of the things that really impressed me about the Perley was when you first walked through the door there were smiles and greetings and everyone is welcomed,” said Olinik before sharing her cherished memory involving one of her visits there.

She’d been running a little late one day, and as she came down the hallway, she heard somebody speaking to her father. It was a personal support worker reading a book of poetry that her father had written. The employees’s shift had already ended, but the worker had stuck around to keep the man company until the daughter arrived.

“Even now, it’s emotional for me,” she said of that moment. “They treat our residents, our veterans, our seniors with so much respect.”

She said the Perley was truly a home for her father.

“I cannot say enough; I just feel so positive about the Perley,” said Olinik, who has added her name to the list for one of the apartments in the seniors’ village. “Not that I’m quite ready to move in.”

What makes the Perley unique is its focus on quality of life, said Boutette.

“It’s not just meeting minimum care standards but really living a full and meaningful life. We see that translated into the staff and the types of roles and activities and programs that we support for veterans and for seniors.”

Perley works closely with residents and their families to understand what’s important to them, she added, “not just as residents who live in a long-term care home or as older adults who might live in an apartment, but what is it that matters about their life, what are their goals, what do they hope to achieve while they’re here and how do we ensure this phase of life is the most meaningful and supported that it can be? I think that’s really what sets us apart.”


By age 65, one in four Canadians is medically frail. At age 85, that number doubles to one in two, according to Perley Health.

Frailty is a medical condition characterized by a reduction in function and a decline in health associated with an increased likelihood of falls and hospitalization, a diminished quality of life and increased mortality rates. Ways of preventing or delaying the onset of frailty include physical activity, proper nutrition and social activities, Robitaille said.

“My daughters, when we have discussions around this, always say they believe people should dance every day, so they would be very upset with me if I didn’t say that,” added the mother of two.

At the end of the panel discussion, Perley Health Foundation executive director Delphine Haslé gave each of the women a hand-dyed silk scarf made by residents of Perley.

“They are all unique and very special, and I hope you enjoy them and think of the residents who are really living life to the fullest.”


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