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Banff, MD asked for seniors housing dollars

John Niemi’s family was devastated when he was forced to move from the Bow Valley he had called home for more than 80 years to a seniors’ housing facility in Cochrane. His health was deteriorating and there was simply no place for him to go.

John Niemi’s family was devastated when he was forced to move from the Bow Valley he had called home for more than 80 years to a seniors’ housing facility in Cochrane.

His health was deteriorating and there was simply no place for him to go. He was beyond the care level at Bow River Seniors Lodge and was not yet ready for extended care at the Canmore or Banff hospitals.

Sadly, he ended up spending the last seven years of his life an hour’s drive away from his family at a nursing home-type facility in Cochrane, where he died April 14 at age 93.

“I was devastated when he had to leave Canmore,” said his daughter, Maryann Craig.

“I was used to seeing him every day, sometimes twice a day. It was even hard on my grandchildren who also saw their great-grandfather every day.”

Niemi’s dad worked in the mines in Canmore, then moved to B.C. for work, before returning again with a young family. John Niemi was just three months old then.

“My dad used to tell the story he was made in Canmore,” said Craig.

She said her dad was not ready for extended care in a hospital.

“He just wasn’t ready for that. He could still get around on his own and he knew all of us right up until the day he passed away,” she said.

“He was in the nursing home part at The Bethany in Cochrane because he didn’t need a nurse 24/7, but nurses were there if he needed, and he had the freedom to come and go.”

According to Bow Valley Regional Housing (BVRH), Craig’s story of her father is not unique. These types of situations are tearing families apart.

BVRH officials say a lack of suitable and appropriate accommodation creates problems as seniors must either live with relatives who are ill-equipped to meet their needs, live on their own in isolation and at risk, or leave the community to find appropriate housing.

“A man who spent his whole life in Canmore spent the last years of his life in Cochrane. That is not acceptable,” said Canmore Councillor Ed Russell, who is a member of the BVRH’s board.

“This type of thing happens more than you care to admit.”

BVRH officials were before Banff town council, Tuesday (May 24) and the MD of Bighorn two weeks prior, asking for financial support to help build 61 new units at the Bow River Seniors Lodge in Canmore.

It’s part of a first-step plan to deal with an existing and growing deficit in supportive living housing as the region’s populations ages.

The redevelopment would include a mix of both renovation and new construction at the Bow River Seniors Lodge, at a projected capital cost of $19.3 million.

If it moves ahead, it aims to serve the needs of all levels of needs in a campus of care. That would also allow for the needs of residents that have to change levels of care to be easily met.

BVRH is asking the Alberta government to kick in half the money, and hopes Banff and Canmore, plus the MD of Bighorn, Kananaskis Improvement District and ID9, will help with the rest.

Banff council was told Banff’s contribution would be approximately 23 per cent. Canmore’s would be about 58 per cent, with the other jurisdictions making up the balance.

Ian Wilson, BVRH chief administrative officer, said the IBI group, based on eight assessments in the province, identified the Banff-Canmore community as one of the most in need.

He said construction was more financially feasible in Canmore, plus Parks Canada’s need-to-reside rules would prove a barrier for seniors coming into the region to be closer to family.

He did note there are also hopes for 21 more units at Banff’s Cascade House – the former Abbeyfield – by the end of this year.

“As you are aware, our needs assessment identified we have critical gaps,” Wilson told council.

“We don’t have (care) Levels 3 and 4 in the Bow Valley and we also don’t have enough of levels of 1 and 2 for the coming population.”

Specifically, BVRH is seeking a letter of financial support from the municipalities, saying they agree to provide financial support for any future operating deficit and debt servicing costs resulting from construction of new units in Canmore.

Banff council decided to bring the issue back to its June 13 meeting, allowing for some community feedback. Council also wants more background information on any other costs.

“As a Banffite, we want service as close to Banff as possible, but I understand the land constraints and the national park constraints,” said Councillor Stavros Karlos.

Presently, there are a total of 80 supportive living units between the Bow River Seniors Lodge in Canmore and Cascade House in Banff.

There’s presently 45 units between the long-term care facilities in Banff and Canmore hospitals, but the expected need is 60 units by 2015.

There are no level 3 and 4 facilities in the Bow Valley, but the accepted need is 43 by 2015 as the population continues to age.

Levels 1 and 2 is where residents are independent with some help, and able to know when needs aren’t being met and to arrange for assistance when needed.

Level 3 means residents require unscheduled assistance and need more help with daily tasks and some decision making. Level 4 is 24-hour need, more help with tasks and decisions and a transition between housing and medical care.

The Seniors Housing Needs Assessment by the IBI Group projected substantial growth among seniors aged 75 years and older from 2010 to 2020.

It is projected the number of seniors age 85 and older will grow by more than 36 per cent to about 230 in the next decade. About two-thirds of these older seniors will reside in Canmore.

As part of a development strategy, the consultants also identified a potential site for future phases of seniors housing in Banff; the health unit lands on Banff Avenue.

“If you have any luck negotiating with the Health Region on that land, God bless you,” said Karlos.

The Municipal District of Bighorn, meanwhile, was informed it could expect an estimated $880,000 requisition or about 10 per cent of the facilities total cost.

Currently, 16 per cent of lodge residents are from the MD.

Even though the renovated facility will be open to all residents of the Bow Valley, Coun. Paul Ryan asked Wilson about the feasibility of building six to eights units in Exshaw to allow Exshaw seniors to remain in their community, rather than have to move to Canmore.

While Wilson said it was possible, he indicated it would be expensive to build and staff as the province won’t fund a facility like that unless it is near services and facilities such as medical staff and a hospital.

However, he added a small facility for independent seniors living in self-contained units would be more feasible, as long as they don’t require 24-hour access to staff.

The best choice, Wilson said, is to focus on the current facilities.

That economy of scale means BVRH has to make hard choices, Russell said addressing Bighorn council with Wilson during its regular May meeting.

“We have got a need. We owe these guys we owe every single one of them. We have got a need. It’s quite blatent. It touches home for all of us. We want to build on this extension project,” he said, adding the organization needed the MD’s support to apply to the province for grant dollars.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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