Tea & Toast helps locals with retirement living journey

Amy Friesen, Tea & Toast founder and CEO, speaks to a group of seniors in the Ottawa community. Tea & Toast is a local business that helps seniors and their families on their retirement living search. Photo courtesy of Tea & Toast.

By Maureen McEwan

If you’ve ever started a retirement living search, you know how daunting it can be. There’s a lot of information to process, new terminology to learn, all while you manage many emotions about a potential move. 

For years, a local company has been helping seniors and their families navigate it all — the good and the bad — along their retirement living journey.

Tea & Toast was created by Amy Friesen, founder and CEO, in May 2014 after she had worked in the industry for nearly a decade. 

“I really just saw a need to have somebody help advocate, have somebody help navigate and guide people and families through the transition,” said Friesen. “It’s always been my opinion that retirement living search and navigation doesn’t need to be as hard as it is — it tends to be quite hard for families but shouldn’t have to be.”

“What we can do is bring some clarity to it,” she added.

Friesen started up the business on her own but there’s now three consultants and an administrative staff member who work with her. The team works with over 150 clients per year — some for weeks or months — to assist seniors and their family members with finding the right space and level of care for them. 

“Our most popular service provides you with a thorough search of senior housing in Ottawa. A trustworthy and caring Tea and Toast advisor will get to know your needs, wants, budget, and location preferences, and present you with three options, schedule tours (in person or virtually) with those residences, and accompany you on each in-person tour,” the company website states. 

Friesen said individuals tend to stay in their homes for as long as possible. When they move to retirement living, it can be for the socialization aspect (which they encourage), or for access to care. 

The industry levels of care exist in the same “ecosphere” but they operate very differently from home to home, company to company, Friesen said, adding that it isn’t like booking a hotel where the rooms and prices are standardized. 

Care level terms like “independent living,” “supportive living,” and “assisted living” are used at different facilities — sometimes interchangeably — to note what type and degree of support an individual will need (nutrition, housekeeping, personal or medical, etc.) in their retirement living situation. 

In the lower level of care, like independent living, clients live fairly independently with little to no support. At a mid-range level, like assisted living, clients usually need some help with the activities of daily living. Then there’s heightened care options, like palliative care, and the long-term care system. 

Tea & Toast works with clients to assess the care-level needs both now and in the future. If a client starts in independent living, they may want to explore assisted living, or go into the long-term care system later. The team works to educate seniors and families on the range of options. 

“That’s been one of our biggest things, to make sure that people really understand what the terminology is and how it relates to their continuum of care journey,” Friesen said. 

Amy Friesen speaks with a senior after a community talk with one of the local mall walking groups. Photo courtesy of Tea & Toast.

Curious about the company name? It was selected because it carries a dual meaning.

“Tea and toast is very familiar to seniors because often when they are not really wanting to make anything, or just kind of bare minimum, a lot of people will go to tea and toast,” Friesen said.

“And it’s familiar to caregivers but [as] more of a red flag because if they see their loved one eating tea and toast for multiple meals, or multiple days, or whatever that looks like, that’s a bit of a nutrition red flag and to do something. There’s something called ‘tea and toast syndrome’ which is basically that,” she added.

During the pandemic, Friesen said the team has been quite busy.

Tea & Toast was “ahead of the curve” on a few things, like virtual tours, so they were able to help retirement living facilities organize those during the pandemic, Friesen said. 

There was a period when many long term care homes weren’t accepting patients (except for crisis cases) so retirement living facilities were seeing an increased demand for the spaces with higher care levels offered. The Tea & Toast team has also noticed an increased demand for memory care options and services for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

There’s 90 retirement living facilities in the Ottawa area, with around 20 of those offering heightened levels of care, Friesen estimated. 

Most of Tea & Toast’s clients are in Ottawa proper, but they sometimes work with clients in areas like Cornwall and Arnprior.

The company has also connected with similar organizations across the country to build a “network” in order to help clients further with referrals in other cities and provinces. 

“We actually aligned with other companies like Tea & Toast across Canada so we have different companies, different advisors — anywhere from Vancouver all the way to Montreal now,” Friesen said. “So we’ve got a network which is really nice because we’ve got a lot of people switching towns.”

Friesen said the company has a “hybrid model” for its services. Tea & Toast maintains contracts with many retirement residences in Ottawa and receives direct payment for the consultancy, often making services complimentary to their clients. But if a client extends their search beyond these homes, there are additional consulting packages available.

Aside from the day-to-day advising, the team develops resources for seniors and families.  

Friesen wrote a book — Breadcrumbs Piecing Together the Retirement Living Industry: A Guidebook and Strategies for Seniors and Caregivers — to help seniors and families when they feel alone in the situation. She also developed a long-term care course — the “Roadmap to Long Term Care in Ontario” — to help people navigate through the provincial system.  

To learn more about resources or the company, visit teaandtoast.ca

This article ran in the Retirement Living section of the August 2021 edition of Kitchissippi Times.

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