The Yukon will have a new 10-bed continuing care facility by the end of this year.
The territorial government announced this week it purchased the Oblate Centre, located on Sixth Avenue in downtown Whitehorse. The building is a former retirement home for priests from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
It will serve as a temporary, partial solution until a planned 150-bed facility opens in Whistle Bend in 2018 or 2019. (That planned centre will later expand to 300 beds.)
Continuing care beds are in short supply. There are 183 existing beds in the territory, spread out between the Thomson Centre, Macauley Lodge and Copper Ridge Place in Whitehorse, and McDonald Lodge in Dawson City.
Some of the beds at Whitehorse General Hospital get called into service to handle the overflow – on average, according to the hospital corporation, 15 acute care beds are taken up by continuing care patients each day. That’s 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the hospital’s capacity.
The wait time for a continuing care bed varies, according to Pat Living of Health and Social Services, but it averages around four months.
“We knew that we were going to need something to take the pressure off the hospital,” said Mike Nixon, Minister of Health and Social Services. “So we were looking around, and as I understand it somebody found out that there was a potential opportunity to buy that building.”
The estimated cost for the purchase and renovation of the building is $2.86 million.
“There’s going to be some significant renovation happening on the interior and likely the exterior of the building to make it accessible for people,” said Nixon.
He added that the department won’t find itself in the same situation it once did with the Thomson Centre facility, which was closed for several years following the discovery of a mould infestation. That building required a $2.3 million renovation, and reopened in 2011.
“We’ve built into our estimates any sort of reclamation or mitigation work that’s necessary,” Nixon said. “We know it’s a pretty solid building – the existing users would, I’m sure, say the same thing. It’s downtown, it’s accessible to many people, so it seemed like a great fit for government for this use and perhaps for other uses down the road, whatever they may be.”
There is currently no plan for the Oblate Centre building after the Whistle Bend continuing care facility comes online.
Jan Stick, the NDP Opposition’s health critic, approved of the move – with some reservations.
“I think they’ve been creative in finding a space to move people that are currently being housed at the hospital in acute care beds even though they’re not sick,” she said. “I think that’s a good thing to free up those beds at the hospital. People don’t belong there. It’s the most expensive form of health care we have.”
However, she added that she has concerns about the long-term plan to house continuing care patients in a 300-bed facility. That’s larger than many of the Yukon’s communities, she pointed out.
“People don’t want to leave the communities and come to Whitehorse and live in a 300-bed institution,” said Stick.
“Right now we have either/or. Either you live at home and you have some home care – and trust me, home care does a great job. Or you live in an institution. We don’t have any in-between, where you might be able to get some nursing care in your home. Why aren’t we putting our money into those programs?”
Ideally, Stick said, she’d like to see funding go towards programs that provide support for aging Yukoners in their homes, or in facilities that allow a degree of independence. She cited the apartment-style complexes that exist down south, that offer residents access to shared common areas and medical care but still allow them to live alone. The Vimy Heritage Housing Society has proposed something similar for the Yukon.
“People want to age in place,” Stick said. “They want to stay in their homes as long as they can.”