Michael Dawe: Nursing home demolition part of ever-changing seniors care

During the past week, the old Red Deer Nursing Home on 30th Street was demolished.

A new seniors complex, to be operated by Bridges Community Living (formerly the Piper Creek Foundation) will be built on the site.

After the project is completed, the Piper Creek Lodge on 33rd Street, which is the oldest lodge care facility in Alberta, will be demolished.

In the early years, the care of the elderly and the chronically ill was generally a family affair. Those in need were taken care of at home by other members of the family to the best of their abilities.

There were a few private nursing homes in the community. They were operated by well-meaning individuals, some of whom had a nursing or medical background.

By the end of the Second World War, the situation was beginning to change. It was obvious that a better system for the care of the elderly and chronically ill was needed.

People were living much longer. With changing times, families found it increasingly difficult to provide adequate care at home.

In 1954, the newly formed Red Deer Kiwanis Club constructed the Twilight Cottages on the South Hill to provide quality, low-cost accommodations for senior citizens. In 1955, the club spearheaded the construction of the Twilight Lodge (now Piper Creek Lodge), which provided housing for single seniors.

These two projects were amongst the first of their kind in Alberta.

In 1962, a decision was made to build an auxiliary hospital in Red Deer that would provide care for patients with chronic illnesses who needed professional nursing care. In January 1965, the Dr. Richard Parsons Auxiliary Hospital officially opened.

At the same time, plans were initiated to provide care and services for those too frail to live in a lodge, but not needing a level of nursing care available in the auxiliary hospital.

Two private companies came forward with proposals to construct nursing homes. The first was Glamorgan Holdings Limited, which constructed the West Park Nursing Home in the fall of 1963.

The second was Red Deer Nursing Homes Limited, which included the same investors as were behind Glamorgan Holdings. This second facility accommodated 77 residents in a mixture of private, semi-private and four-bed wards.

According to the managers, the staff were to be well trained in “nursing and therapeutic care for the convalescent and chronically ill.”

The official opening of Red Deer Nursing Home took place on Tuesday, June 9, 1964. Two Alberta cabinet ministers were present, as were the mayors of Red Deer and Lacombe.

There was great praise for “private enterprise coming into this field with nursing homes,” as it would “provide the opportunity to develop the needs of the country.”

In 1970, the Dr. Richard Parsons Auxiliary Hospital Board built Valley Park Manor, Red Deer’s first public nursing home.

In 1974, the board purchased the Red Deer and West Park Nursing Homes. In 1976, the new Red Deer Regional Hospital Board took over responsibility for the auxiliary hospital and the three public nursing homes.

In 1976-77, a $2-million renovation and expansion project was completed for Red Deer Nursing Home, bringing the number of beds up to 118 and greatly enhancing the quality of the facility.

In 1994, the David Thompson Health Authority took over the operation of the Red Deer Nursing Home, as well as all other health facilities in central Alberta.

A spruce up of Red Deer Nursing Home occurred in 1996 using funds from the sale of the West Park Nursing Home.

In 2004, the Dr. Richard Parsons Auxiliary Hospital was closed after the construction of Bethany Care’s Collegeside complex by Red Deer College.

In 2010, the Extendicare Michener Hill facility was constructed.

The Red Deer Nursing Home, as well as Valley Park Manor, were both closed and most residents were transferred to this new facility. The Red Deer Nursing Home remained vacant until its recent demolition.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears every Wednesday.

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