CANMORE – A long-awaited expansion of Canmore’s Bow River Lodge will give more aging residents of the Bow Valley the support they need to stay close to home in their golden years.
The new 60-suite facility, which was designed to meet the needs of designated supportive living level 4 and dementia operations, offers affordable and appropriate housing with 24-hour nursing support, addressing a current gap between care provided by Bow Valley Regional Housing (BVRH) and that provided by local hospitals.
“To me, there are certain things about this that are really meaningful,” said Ian Wilson CAO of BVRH, at the wing’s grand opening Thursday (April 27). “One is finally not as many people will have to leave the valley to get the care they need, and they’ll be near their community for support – that’s huge.
“And then the fact that many of those people who had to leave will be able to move back here, is amazing.”
Opening the new wing marks the completion of the second phase of BVRH’s affectionately known ‘This is Home’ project. Its objective is to lay the groundwork for the non-profit to offer enhanced levels of care over future years with the goal of fewer seniors being forced to move outside the region as their need for medical and support services grows.
The cost of this phase was about $16.9 million, with the Alberta government funding $16 million and BVRH covering the difference through fundraising and financing, including municipal requisition.
BVRH, a regional housing body that provides community and seniors housing for all municipalities of the Bow Valley, has the power to requisition property taxes in each of its five-member municipalities in Canmore, Banff, ID No. 9, the MD of Bighorn and Kananaskis Improvement District.
Although the facility just celebrated its grand opening, it began filling new suites on the top floor in February at a rate of about two people per week. Currently, 19 of the 30 new designated supported living suites are occupied on the top floor, with most or all of the rest prescribed.
Wilson said the COVID-19 pandemic, coordinating with various levels of government, and a hot water softener failure that flooded part of the building two weeks before the top floor opened, were all challenging parts of the project.
At least on the part of the water softener, it did not delay residents moving in on the discussed timeline. The bottom floor, however, has yet to open due to understaffing. This part of the facility features 30 secure accommodations specially designed for seniors struggling with memory or dementia issues.
A housing needs analysis conducted by BVRH in 2018 identified a lack of spaces in the Bow Valley for these two specific types of seniors housing. While spaces have since become available, the facility can’t operate at full capacity due to inadequate staffing levels.
There are currently 15 health care aides working at the facility, including casual workers. To function at full capacity, another 15 vacant health care aide positions need to be filled, according to SE Health, which provides care management services at the lodge.
“If we don’t have that staff, then at the end of the day, there’s a deficit in who we can care for; the care becomes rushed; the care becomes unsafe,” said Sarah Thibert, SE Health wellness manager and educator. “It’s very, very important to make sure we have safe, adequate care.”
Thibert said many of the lodge’s current employees commute to work from Calgary or surrounding municipalities because, even with competitive salaries and signing bonuses to support living there, they can’t find housing in the mountain town or still can’t afford it.
Esmé Comfort, a former longtime Canmore councillor, school board representative and resident of the lodge, has a special place in her heart for the project. In her time as a Town official, she was a vocal proponent of addressing social issues in the community, including housing and senior supports.
She was also on council when the first phase of the project was completed in 2017. The cost of that phase was $15.7 million, and it included 63 new units for the Bow River Lodge, replacing 43 units that were demolished, and constructing an additional 20 units of senior housing for the community.
“I think this is the way I’d like to see society go,” said Comfort. “We have to look after the people that need it. It’s the way things should work – it’s our job to take care of each other.”
In addition to its two seniors lodges – Bow River Lodge in Canmore and Cascade House in Banff – BVRH operates independent seniors apartments, community housing and the provincial rent supplement program.
The third phase of ‘This is Home,’ is conceptual at this stage, but includes replacing 12 independent seniors apartments with a 50-unit apartment building. Wilson said it could also include staff accommodations.
“That’s what we are pitching to the province,” he said. “It would be three storeys and have all kinds of housing that we provide and to replace what we currently have, but it would also add some housing to the valley, which as we know – is critical.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.