An earlier issue with frost heaves during construction at the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility has been dealt with, officials say. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Yukon government shows off new continuing care facility

An open house is being held for the public Sept. 9

The Whistle Bend continuing care facility is on schedule and on budget, despite earlier concerns about frost heaves, officials say.

“The frost heave is over,” said PCL Construction representative and superintendent Grant Blackler. Standing amid the shell of the building with hard-hatted construction workers milling about busily, Blackler pointed out the general area where the frost heave occurred. “The frost is out of the ground and the permanent system to stop future frost is in use.”

This system involves a mixture of backfill, insulation and heating the space under the ground, to keep the soil at a no less than 5 C, he said.

Construction is moving along, with the “closing date” — the point when the exterior of the building is sealed off to create a closed-in work site for winter — of Oct. 15, he said.

Government officials took the chance to show off their progress on the new facility during a tour for media Aug. 29. The design and architecture includes a series of ‘wayfinding’ points designed to help visitors and residents — many of whom may have memory problems —find their way amid the sprawling, hand-shaped complex. The entryway is built of stripped cedar logs shipped up from from Powell River, British Columbia.

“The entryway is made from wood and stone to reflect cabins,” said Nancy Kidd, director of the project, noting that many of their residents were comforted by these kinds of materials.

The 150-bed facility, which has faced criticism over its size and location, will house three separate but related long term health care units, said Kidd.

There will be a long term mental health care unit with 12 beds, a community hospice centre with 18 beds, and the long-term care housing facility with 120 beds. Kidd said the long-term care facility will be opening first, in the next year, followed by the other two facilities the year after. This is because the greatest need in the community is for this long-term care, she said.

While the hospice centre opening is still a ways away, Kidd said it will fill a much needed role in the community.

“Respite care bookings are (currently) made months in advance… sometimes we are able to be helpful (to families) in a timely way and sometimes were are not,” said Kidd. “Community hospice is an opportunity for individuals to receive really specialized care at the end of life.”

The long-term care unit will be divided into five separate “houses,” the names of which have yet to be selected, as the residents themselves will vote to make that choice when the facility opens. Each house has two wings with 12 beds, with shared central common areas where residents can socialize and spend time outside of their rooms, not unlike a modern university dorm. While most of residents’ meals will come from the main kitchen, there is a supervised kitchen facility in each house so that people who are able and wish to may cook if they like.

The facility will also feature indoor and outdoor gardens, so that residents can care for plants even in the winter time, Kidd said.

While the building is still under construction, staff have finished a sample room, to demonstrate what the average living space will look like. Each will contain a wheeled hospital-style bed, with a night stand, television, built- in closet and chair. There is a private bathroom in each room, with a shower; residents who wish to take a bath can use one of seven bath facilities.

“We have found many of our residents prefer showers now,” said Kidd.

Each room will have a mobile lift system built into it, so that, if a resident falls, staff have no difficulty in helping them back up. Some units will also have a built-in oxygen and medical gas system.

Patients with dementia will be aided by special bracelets which will identify their whereabouts to staff if they are not where they usually are, said Kidd. They will also limit where residents can go, so that residents who are not capable of being outside their rooms unsupervised remain safe.

“We know a large number of clients will have dementia, so it’s really important that they feel comfortable here and have a secure environment,” Kidd said.

Each room has a “memory box” at the door where residents can securely keep items that are important to them, to personalize the space and to aid people in remembering where their rooms are. Residents will also have continuous access to the outside via common areas and balconies, and the view beyond the windows overlooks the surrounding — and rather soothing — mountains on the horizon.

“The Yukon has experienced an increase in the number of people needing long term care and there being no beds for them,” Kidd said.

“A year from now my team and I will be making these beds.”

An open house for the facility is being held for the public Sept. 9 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m, with activities, a site tour and refreshments. People who would like to attend are encouraged to wear closed-toed shoes.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com