The Yukon government has unveiled its design for the Whistle Bend continuing care centre, and it’s working hard to prove that the facility will be a home - not a warehouse.
Premier Darrell Pasloski and Health Minister Mike Nixon were on hand to reveal computer renderings and a digital flythrough of the 150-bed centre at a meeting on Thursday.
“This facility will be a beautiful home for all its residents and a beautiful addition to the growing neighbourhood of Whistle Bend, a place where so many people are choosing to call home,” Pasloski said.
The centre will include seven residential units on three levels, which the architects are calling “houses.”
Most of the houses will be divided into two wings, each with 12 rooms. One house will have just 12 beds, for people with mental health concerns. Another will have 12 palliative care hospice rooms and six acute care rooms.
There will also be 12 small dining rooms, instead of one large dining area.
The centre will be divided into these smaller sections to give the facility a more intimate feeling, explained Derek Crawford, one of the architects.
“No large rooms, no big cafeteria-type spaces, but smaller spaces that provide the social experience that really does make it feel that (the residents are) home,” he said. “And the whole idea is that this is not just replicating home, this is their home. They will adopt this as their home.”
The seven houses will connect to one end of the main entrance building, called the village centre.
That building will contain various facilities, including a hairdressing salon, an arts and crafts centre, a therapeutic gym, a medical examination room, a bistro and a First Nations healing room.
The facility has been designed so that a second 150-bed complex could connect to the far end of the village centre, as a mirror image of the first.
The centre will also include family gathering rooms with kitchenettes, so that visiting families can cook meals with their loved ones. There will be a suite available for family members who need to stay at the centre overnight, and all of the rooms will be large enough for a sleep chair for visiting friends or family.
Each wing will also have an outside garden area.
“We’re delighted that the design supports the smaller dining room, living room spaces,” said Nancy Kidd, director of the Whistle Bend centre. “Because that’s really evidence-informed practice. The smaller setting is just so much nicer.”
The bedrooms will also be larger than those in any of the existing continuing care centres, she said.
Marilyn Hubley, who attended the meeting on Thursday, said she thinks the centre will be a “beautiful, beautiful home.”
“I want a room eventually up there,” she said. “I’m looking forward to moving in - not too soon.”
Hubley used to work as a manager at Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay Lodge, and has recently retired.
She said she’s heard criticism about the location of the Whistle Bend facility. The Yukon Liberals and New Democrats have raised concerns about the centre being built in a subdivision that’s still sparsely occupied. The City of Whitehorse had issued 147 occupancy approvals for the Whistle Bend subdivision by the end of 2015. With an average of 2.5 residents per household, that amounts to about 370 residents.
And an access-to-information request revealed last summer that a high-ranking health official had warned that building the facility in Whistle Bend would be a “nightmare.”
But Hubley said she’s heard it all before.
“I was around in 2002 when they opened up Copper Ridge Place, and it was the same thing. People were so upset about the location. After a couple of years, people loved it because Copper Ridge (Place) became a part of that community.”
Still, NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson isn’t convinced.
“The scale of this will be quite sobering to a lot of people,” she said. “What we’re doing is we’re creating a very large institution. You can’t disguise an institution that’s three storeys tall… as anything other than an institution.”
Hanson said she’s not sure the government ever seriously considered any alternatives to a single, large facility.
“We don’t even know what options they have considered,” she said. “You just don’t get carte blanche to say, ‘We spend your money however we want to.’”
But Kidd said that with nearly 90 seniors currently on the wait list for a bed, there’s no question that this facility is needed. “The number of seniors (in the Yukon) will double in the next 10 years,” she said. “Now, not all of those seniors are going to require care. But more and more of them will.”
The current cost of the project is estimated at $147 million, down slightly from the original planning estimate of $158 million. That includes construction, infrastructure and move-in costs.
Construction is expected to start in April and to be complete by Jan. 5, 2018. The centre is expected to open in the spring of 2018.
Last December, the construction contract was awarded to PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., the same company that is working on the Whitehorse General Hospital expansion.
PCL is based in Richmond, B.C., but operations manager Wayne Bilawchuk said he plans to hire “as much of the local trades and workforce as possible.”
He said he’s already hired some local firms, including Associated Engineering and Kobayashi + Zedda Architects.
He added that the PCL team members will be relocating to Whitehorse with their families for the duration of the project.
Staffing numbers for the new facility have yet to be determined, though Pasloski said there will be “significant job opportunities” when the centre nears completion.
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