Why we need a new continuing care facility

Your government has set aside $6.9 million in the 2014-15 territorial budget for design work on a new continuing care facility for Yukoners. As minister of health and social services, I would like to provide you with the facts about our plann

by Doug Graham

Your government has set aside $6.9 million in the 2014-15 territorial budget for design work on a new continuing care facility for Yukoners. As minister of health and social services, I would like to provide you with the facts about our planned facility and the reasons why continuing care is a priority for this government.

Like all other areas of Canada, Yukon has a growing population of seniors. It is critical that planning is done now to ensure that services are in place to meet this growing demand. Other related health care issues include dementia, respite needs, mental health diagnosis and hospice palliative care.

Our overall approach is to support seniors in living in their homes as long as possible, while also ensuring we have facilities in place to provide more complex care when needed, at a cost that we can afford.

Some things for you to consider:

* Yukon has the highest ratio of individuals over 85 who are living alone.

* National trends show that the greatest growth in the percentage of seniors in the population will be in the North.

* Across Canada there is a rapidly growing need for dementia care.

Yukon currently has one of the most comprehensive bundles of no cost home care programming in Canada, offering home support, personal care and professional care services (through nursing, therapies and social workers). Although home care is very effective in keeping people safely in their own homes longer, both in Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities, it is not a substitute for continuing care for those who require a significant level of support or specialized services. Our data shows that 40 per cent of home care clients are at high risk for institutionalization, and 14 per cent have no local caregiver at all.

When communities are not able to support individuals, and when continuing care beds are not available, people often end up in hospital. This is a problem for several reasons:

* They don’t receive the specialized care and services that they require (this is especially an issue for dementia care clients).

* Hospital beds are extremely expensive, and therefore this is not a sustainable practice.

* Beds filled with clients waiting for continuing care have an impact on the operation of a hospital.

For example, those beds will not be available for elective surgeries.

The waitlist for long term care in Yukon currently has 41 clients, and the list grows each month. The average wait is four months, with a range of anywhere from one to 15 months. Last year, a needs analysis was completed which identified significant need for additional bed capacity in continuing care over the next 20 years. Conservative estimates project the need by 2021, based on current utilization patterns, will be 320 to 380 beds, and by 2035, it will have grown to 430 to 550 beds.

This is why we are proceeding with planning a new facility to provide up to 150 beds in the early stages of the project, with infrastructure to support 300 beds in total, which will be added on in phases. We anticipate that design work will occur throughout 2014 and 2015, with construction from 2015 to 2017.

We want to ensure that Yukoners have timely access to the best, safest, most appropriate care possible. Planning for this new facility will ensure we can support the growing number of seniors who will require complex care or specialized dementia care. Ensuring there is a strong First Nations cultural component will be an integral part of the planning.

The new facility will be designed to best practise standards of smaller congregate living units or neighbourhoods that are warm, home-like and easy for residents to navigate and socialize in. We are reviewing best practices and best industry intelligence to ensure we meet clients’ needs.

Since our announcement was made, there has been some public comment concerning centralization of continuing care in Whitehorse. The government considers it a priority to help ensure seniors can remain in their home communities as long as possible, which is why we have built new seniors’ residences in Haines Junction, Watson Lake, Teslin and Faro over the last few years, with plans to replace MacDonald Lodge in Dawson City and funding allocated for a seniors’ residence in Mayo. However, when a community is no longer able to support an individual with complex, specialized care requirements, the advantage of a larger facility is that you can group individuals with similar care requirements and needs, as the staffing, programming and supports required are very different. To have specialized care in each and every Yukon community is not affordable, nor sustainable.

Significant assessment and planning has gone into the government’s decision to proceed with this project. Long-term care is an issue that affects every Yukoner. It is important that we take steps now to ensure high quality care in the future for the benefit of all Yukoners.

If you have ever been faced with the challenge of caring for loved ones who are aging, or who have dementia or other long-term health issues, you will agree that Yukon has some of the best care available, thanks to our extraordinary staff and volunteers. Our goal is to continue to provide a continuum of services to meet care needs, from supports for aging in place, to a robust home care program, to continuing care beds, while ensuring our health care workers have the best facilities and programming to continue their fine work.

Doug Graham is Yukon’s minister of health and social services.

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