City native heads up hospital’s new geriatric service

Dr. Amanda Giffin Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

A Sarnia native has returned home to spearhead a new service at Bluewater Health dedicated to geriatric medicine, a rarity in a city so small.

Dr. Amanda Giffin is the first of two experts recruited to lead the specialized hospital service, which began catering to seniors in June. The other is Nurse Practitioner Judy Wambulwa.

“There’s been a lot of work, a lot of connections, and a lot of great collaboration to make this happen,” Giffin told The Journal. “But there’s still lots of building to do.”

The program, two years in the making and available only by referral from a family physician, is looking to add another geriatric specialists to assist the community’s ageing population.

Nearly 22% of Sarnia-Lambton’s residents are aged 65 or older.

Giffin, 33, said the focus is on the mind, mobility and medication of local seniors. Many elderly have multiple health conditions, so consultation is common with other specialists in physiotherapy, social work and pharmacology.

“Geriatrics is very much a team sport. It requires the support of a lot of different allied help resources,” Giffin said. “A lot of that is balancing the recommendations for each of their individual ailments.”

Giffin attended Cathcart Boulevard and Northern Collegiate before taking her undergrad at Oakland University in Michigan on a tennis scholarship.

She trained in the Caribbean and completed placements at U.S. hospitals before landing a residency in Calgary, she said. Geriatric specialists are more commonly found in larger centres, and having a program devoted to the aging process in a city Sarnia’s size is “prestigious,” she said.

“Sarnia is a senior friendly community. There’s a lot of dedication here for improving care and livability for seniors.”

She discovered geriatrics while doing a rotation at Western University in London, and it was “love at first sight,” she said.

What attracted her was the field’s slow and thorough approach, with patience and compassion key to understanding the whole person, she said.

“It’s looking at older adults and not writing them off as old and confused… it’s considering where they’ve come from and what they’ve been through.”

Giffin returned to Sarnia with her husband — who’s also from the area — with their three-year-old son.

She always expected to wind up back in Sarnia-Lambton because of its sense of community and proximity to the water and the U.S., she said.

“I love that you can go anywhere in town and it takes no longer than 10 or 15 minutes.”

Bluewater Health spokesperson Julia Oosterman said the hospital was thrilled to land Giffin.

“It is quasi-miraculous in my mind that we are as lucky as we are, that Amanda is actually from Sarnia. The stars were aligning,” she said.

“When possible, we don’t want our patients travelling up and down the 402. Whenever possible, we need to have our own specialists in town.”