The provincial government has made the right choice to close two older nursing homes, Seniors and Community Supports Minister Mary Anne Jablonski said Friday after touring a continuing care facility in Red Deer.
Jablonski, Red Deer North MLA, and Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas toured Michener Hill Village with officials from Alberta Health Services and Extendicare Canada, the private operators of the 280-bed residence.
Landscapers were busy outside, and inside, staff were cleaning in preparation for the residents who will move from Red Deer Nursing Home and Valley Park Manor. The move begins Sept. 1 and finish Oct. 6. The first residents of Michener Hill will come from Red Deer Nursing Home and then Valley Park Manor will gradually move over.
The closures of the older nursing homes don’t come without controversy. Organizers of Tuesday’s upcoming rally outside City Hall Park, starting at 4 p.m., say the move is bad because there are 230 Central Albertans on a waiting list for long-term care.
Extendicare regional director Linda McGeough described Michener Hill as a “non-institutional” facility that will showcase Red Deer as a leader in continuing care.
“It’s built with a wellness philosophy, not an illness philosophy,” she said.
McGeough showed some of the 18 “households” which depending on the configuration, will have 12 or 14 residents in each. The dining area includes a communal kitchen and fireplace. Nursing stations are non-existant. Instead, medications will be locked in residents’ rooms. A high number of rooms have single washrooms. Staff will also use point-of-care computer tablets on the wall, where they can document information on residents without doing all the paperwork. Wayne McKendrick, Extendicare vice-president of western operations, said this new technology will free up staff’s time to be with residents.
A large atrium area, or “village”, is where residents can converge for a special coffee or other services. A day care will also open and seniors will have the chance to get to know the children.
“We’re trying to recreate a resident’s home,” said McGeough.
There are also two bariatric rooms for severely obese individuals, and rooms for 16 couples.
Jablonski believes residents from the two older nursing homes will be glad they’ve made the switch, although with any move, the emotions can be tough at first.
“We did the groundbreaking five years ago and I was very excited then to be able to have a facility where I knew we could care for seniors who had special needs, complex needs — and help our seniors to be as independent as possible,” Jablonski said.
About 400 staff will be employed at Michener Hill Village.
Jablonski said a number of different government departments helped decide that the two older nursing homes should close because they would need extensive work, and seniors’ expectations are different now.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has stated that the closure will result in the loss of 216 long-term care beds and that the new facility is only adding four more long-term care beds. Michener Hill will also have 60 supportive living beds, or designated assisted living beds.
“I’ve heard their concerns, but I believe we are providing an increased number of beds, not just four,” Jablonski said. “I think it’s higher quality of care because there are more choices.”
People will be charged the same rate as in the existing nursing homes because they are capped by the government, Jablonski added.
She said the building is providing a continuum of care and so the assisted living beds should be included in the equation.
“Seniors have told us, even as their care needs become greater and as long as they are cognizant, they want to be as independent as possible,” she said.
The two highest levels of care will be offered at Michener Hill. Long-term care residents require complex end-of-life care by nursing staff, while supportive living provides a home where seniors can enjoy privacy and independence, but also have health-care staff at their disposal.
Jablonski said the province is also funding 73 out of 100 new continuing care beds at Bethany Collegeside, the remaining 23 going at market rates. Covenant Health will provide 100 designated assisted living beds in a new facility in Red Deer.