Continuing care for Yukoners: Listening and responding to seniors and their families

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, September 18th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

Caring for elders and seniors has always been and will always be extremely important to our government. We understand that seniors are individuals with unique needs and concerns. That is why we have committed to – and delivered on – our promise to provide housing options along a continuum of care needs, everything from the highest level of continuing care to helping seniors still living in their homes.

That is also why we have been engaging with seniors and their families on this issue for several years. We began talking to seniors in a focused way about continuing care in 2012/2013, which resulted in the first of two needs assessments. Another series of meetings began last winter and continues this fall, including such groups as the resident councils of existing continuing care facilities, the Golden Age Society, the Yukon Order of Pioneers, the Yukon Council on Aging, as well as seniors and their families. Interested Yukoners have been sharing their thoughts and ideas, and learning about the planning for the new continuing care facility we are building in Whistle Bend. We will continue this process until late October.

Our government is committed to ensuring that seniors and their families are well-informed about options in Yukon along the continuum of care and that they understand we are making investments all along this continuum. For many Yukon seniors, “aging in place” in their own homes is the most sensible and desirable option. Some seniors, however, require a level of care that cannot be provided in their existing homes because of complex medical issues such as dementia. This type of care often goes beyond what family or part-time help can provide. Living indefinitely in a hospital is not the answer. Hospitals are meant to provide services such as emergency medical care or surgery; they were never intended to house people for the long term. Unfortunately, some seniors have lived in hospital because there were no other options.

Similar to Copper Ridge Place, the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility is being designed to help meet this important need. It will provide the highest levels of care for those who require 24/7 nursing care and monitoring. This facility is designed for people who truly cannot remain at home any longer – either alone or with assistance. It will be a warm and comfortable home, while offering the necessary medical care, including community hospice palliative care, a specialized mental health unit, a community day program, a First Nation healing centre and a traditional food program.

We have been encouraged to hear from seniors who say that if the new facility is anything like Copper Ridge Place, it will have hit the mark. And that is exactly what we have in mind.

Unfortunately, there has been some misinformation circulating about the Whistle Bend facility. Some people are under the impression that we are taking an “either/or” approach to home care and continuing care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our government has invested heavily – and continues to invest heavily – in home care. We agree with other Yukoners who say that it is in everyone’s best interest that seniors remain in their homes for as long as possible.

Our commitment to helping elders and seniors stay in their communities is evident in our long record of building seniors’ housing and care facilities. Our ongoing investment, from both Health and Social Services and Yukon Housing Corporation, includes seniors’ residences and units in Dawson City, Watson Lake, Faro, Teslin, Haines Junction, Whitehorse and most recently Mayo.

There have also been concerns raised about the “remote” location of the new facility. In fact, the site of the continuing care facility in Whistle Bend is 9 ½ kilometres from Whitehorse General Hospital, slightly closer than Copper Ridge Place.

As a government, we are committed to listening and responding to the concerns Yukoners have about their health and housing needs as they age. No policy or program or building is ever developed in a vacuum. And when misinformation is circulating, listening and communicating with Yukoners becomes even more important.

Many Yukoners want more information about what the Whistle Bend facility will offer and how it will support specific care needs. Through meeting with prospective residents and families, we are connecting with Yukoners on this critical matter. We also encourage you to visit our Health and Social Services website at www.hss.gov.yk.ca to learn more about continuing care. A new web page on the Whistle Bend facility is in the process of being launched – it will be featured on the department’s home page.