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Commentary: Kudos on the opening of Whistle Bend Place

Quality care depends upon the personnel, equipment and sufficient operating funds.
The main interior entrance at Whistle Bend Place in Whitehorse on Sept. 12. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Lillian Nakamura Maguire

Congratulations to all the officials and workers on the opening of Whistle Bend Place. Seniors Action Yukon along with many of the 1,000 other visitors is impressed by the design.

It is a beautiful state-of-the-art facility with lots of potential to provide great support for families and individuals. Hopefully this will soon provide relief to many families waiting for much needed long-term care.

The foundation has been laid for quality care in the design of the facility. The key to quality care depends upon the personnel, equipment and sufficient operating funds for appropriate staffing and programming now and into the future.

In recent months the Yukon government has been on a hiring blitz – 180 positions filled and 70 more in the future. With nursing shortages across the country it must be a challenge to fill some of those positions. The government is also faced with attracting employees with the added high cost of housing – a problem well known to many locals looking for affordable rental housing.

The quality of care in the existing long-term care facilities is excellent. Will there be sufficient funds to continue this same level of care in a large facility such as Whistle Bend Place? What will be the ratio of resident to nursing care staff providing hands-on care?

Will there be sufficient funds for all staff to receive on-going training. Medical professionals, support staff in the kitchen, laundry, janitorial, administrative, volunteers and managers all require specialized training in working with older residents.

Are there funds available for dental care, occupational and physiotherapy or specialized services for people with dementia or mental health issues or palliative care needs?

We also need to ensure that there are sufficient support services for people not needing that level of long-term care. Adequate funding for home care services not only in Whitehorse but also in all communities are essential to enable people to remain as independent as possible, as long as they are willing and able.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s 2017 report Seniors in Transition, “Within the context of health spending in Canada today, alternatives to adding more residential care capacity to address the expected growth in demand will need to be explored.”

The report adds that “Factors that influence admission to residential care included the need for physical assistance, cognitive impairment, wandering, living alone and having a caregiver who is unable to continue providing care. Demand for residential care might be offset by developing or expanding home care services to address these factors, and by further integrating the hospital and continuing care sectors.”

Seniors Action Yukon has heard from many people about their positive experiences with home care support when it is available in Whitehorse. However it is often a problem for those requiring extended hours, or weekend coverage, or services in the rural community, or help outside of the scope of services provided.

People have also told us about the need for better transitional care moving from the hospital to their home.

In a recent Canadian Medical Association Health Summit, Inspiring a Future of Better Health, many new technologies and approaches were discussed to monitor the health of patients, provide care at a distance and to make patient record keeping easier for practitioners.

Perhaps there are innovations in communications technology that would allow for closer monitoring of people’s health care that could be explored especially for rural and remote communities.

To build a foundation for healthy aging, we need age-friendly communities with adequate affordable rental housing and affordable independent assisted living facilities.

Unfortunately at this time, we don’t have any independent assisted living in Yukon.

The Vimy Heritage Housing Society recently announced that it has land in Whistle Bend from the Yukon government. Pending a consultant’s report on its feasibility, the society will be looking for funding from all levels of government.

We can assume that it will be at least a few more years before we see the actual building.

In the meantime, many older adults still hope for affordable rental accommodations or other creative housing options. There seems to be no shortage of new condo buildings, but few affordable and decent rental accommodations for older adults wanting to downsize or free themselves from housing maintenance or yard work, or just find a decent place to call home.

We hope that the government’s Ageing in Place consultations will continue and we look forward to reviewing the results prior to any budget decisions being made. Our hope is for all of us to age with dignity and respect. There are many elements to consider.

Lillian Nakamura Maguire is one of the co-chairs for Seniors Action Yukon, an independent voice for older Yukoners (55+) committed to speaking out and opening dialogue about issues affecting the well-being of older Yukoners.