Seniors looking for housing or a spot in a long-term care facility are used to long waiting lists.
The recently opened Fort St. John Hospital and Peace Villa Residential Care was seen by many, including Premier Christy Clark, to be the antidote to that morass, and held the promise of a new era for support for seniors in the Northeast.
However, the new facilities haven’t delivered on all that was hoped and long queues for services remain stubbornly persist.
Currently, the queue for seniors who are patients in the new hospital’s acute care unit and have been waitlisted for Peace Villa Residential Care Home stands between eight or nine on any given day.
“We are very aware that we are no further ahead with this new facility than we were a year or 10 ago,” said Jean Leahy, chair of Save Our Northern Seniors.
“Our group (Save Our Northern Seniors) knew a year ago that we were not going to have enough beds when this new facility opened,”
The new care home has 123 beds. It immediately absorbed 85 seniors in long-term care from Peace River Lutheran Care Home, which was closed, and 28 local residents in long-term care who had previously been in long-term care at Dawson Creek’s Rotary Manor care facility and Pouce Coupe Care Home.
That leaves just 13 new beds for incoming seniors. The facility was filled to capacity within two days of opening.
One person accepted to the long-term care facility has been waiting in acute care at the hospital since June.
The backlog created by the lack of bed space at Peace Villa has several effects on the delivery of health services.
In late September, emergency personnel at the hospital examined Harold Billings, 88. It was determined that he needed to be hospitalized.
Billings daughter-in-law, Liz, said that, at the time, her father-in-law was the sixth person in emergency waiting for a bed in the acute care ward. Staff told them that he would have to wait.
“He wasn’t moved upstairs for two or three days,” said Billings.
While saying that it is unusual for an admitted patient to wait for that period of time in emergency, Betty Morris, chief operating officer at Northern Health Authority, said that it’s common across the province and the country for seniors who are awaiting their long-term care placements to stay in acute care wards.
“They do occupy a bed and that may lead to a backlog with patients in emergency, but they also need that bed,” Morris said, noting that it sometimes can take time to locate a bed for a new patient because staff have to wait for somebody else to be discharged.
“What we’re talking about here is a phenomenon that is province-wide and country-wide,” Morris said.
“We know that there are people who are waiting in emergency for a bed ,but it’s not really prevalent at Fort St. John Hospital,” Morris said, noting that, such a backlog as Billings described is not a regular occurrence, but there are times in the year when it does happen more frequently. Particularly when cold and flu season strikes.
“Whenever there is a surge of something, we will see patients waiting longer to be seen and to get admitted,” said Morris.
Morris said that acute care differs substantially from the services provided in a long-term care facility.
Patients will be well looked after from a medical standpoint and will, most of the time, have their own room, but in an acute care unit the patient is unable to bring in many of their personal belongings and spends much of their time in their room.
In contrast, “residential care is about living life in a fashion like what you would do if you were at home,” Morris said.
Each person in a residential care facility is guaranteed their own room for their personal belongings, as well as a shared common dining and living room.
Generally speaking, those who enter acute care stay for only a short time.
Pat Pimm, the MLA for North Peace, says that he’s aware of the problem and that it is an ongoing concern across the province.
“I just toured the province on finance committee and this is an issue that comes up in most communities. As the boomers move up into their magical years this will become an increasingly big problem,” said Pimm.
His solution is that the private sector steps in to deliver services.
“We have no private facilities in this community to handle these folks that are getting into the later stages of their lives,” said Pimm, referring to long-term care facilities, “Certainly this is something that other communities have.”
“We have a couple of old facilities —the old hospital and old care home — and I think there’s an opportunity in those facilities to handle extended care. This area has no private care and there’s some opportunities there,” said Pimm.
It’s agreed among health professionals and senior’s advocates that the best course for seniors is for them to remain in their homes as long as possible.
“I think that we need to do everything we can as a community and Northern Health to keep services in the community and to keep people in their homes,” Morris said.
Leahy shares that sentiment, and says that the consensus view at a recent Council of Senior Citizens’ conference in Victoria is that there are better outcomes for seniors who stay at home as long as possible provided there is adequate home support care.
Leahy says that services in the city for seniors living at home are much improved
“Northern Health is concentrating on helping people in their homes. At the present moment we have a full slate of community care workers,” said Leahy.
Peace Villa Care Home, along with the new hospital, opened its doors in June at a total cost of $302 million.
Leahy says that she doesn’t know how long the wait list is for the local care facility but seven of the 24 people living at Heritage Manor II, an assisted living centre on 106th Ave, are currently waitlisted for Peace Villa.
Leahy says that at the Peace Villa site there is room for another pod to be built to house additional residents.
“All we can do is to start lobbying to get that done because things are not going to get better,” said Leahy, noting that the North Peace area has approximately 4,700 seniors over the age of 70.
Earlier this year Lori Ackerman, mayor of Fort St. John, said that the city is aware of the needs of seniors as their population is set to grow by 40 or 50 per cent over the next 10 years as the baby boomers age.
“While we are the youngest community in B.C., the biggest growing demographic in Fort St. John is seniors. While we’ve got some really nice places — Heritage I and Heritage II, etc.— were are going to need more,” said Larry Evans, city counsellor.
But the many pressures on housing seniors aren’t only been felt in long-term care.
Lisa Bryden, assistant manager of North Peace Seniors Housing Society, says that her facility has space for 100 people and that 94 people are on the waiting list.
Leahy says that the now defunct Peace Lutheran Care Home is in the process of being converted to apartments for independent seniors.
The first stage of the project will yield 14 new apartments. Bryden says that 16 more apartments will be completed boosting the NPSHP’s apartment inventory to 130 by the time the project is complete.
Pierre Gregoire, a NPSHP resident and the president of its drop-in centre, says the long wait times for senior housing is — across the board — a very serious issue.
He warned, “At least a third of the people here should be in care homes.”