Let’s put caring for Yukon seniors first

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, March 13th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

Caring for aging loved ones presents an on-going and growing challenge for Yukoners and our health care system. Your government is committed to the best affordable and sustainable continuing care for Yukon seniors.

Yukon government data shows that 40 per cent (over 200) of Yukon home care clients are at high risk to require specialized care that cannot be delivered at home. In addition, 14 per cent have no local family or friend who could assume the caregiver role (the national average is three per cent). Historically, this indicator has been one of the strongest predictors of future need for continuing care.

Designing a single facility that is a home with a sense of community for many seniors and delivers multiple levels of high-need care is a substantial benefit to Yukoners.

Copper Ridge Place is perceived by many Yukoners in a very positive manner — a relatively small facility with a home-like atmosphere. That is a testament to the success of its design and approach, since Copper Ridge actually houses 96 continuing care beds. The first phase of the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility will hold 150 beds and will be designed to emphasize community integration, best practices of smaller, congregate living units that are warm and home-like, access to the outdoors, and exposure to sun and views.

We are committed to supporting people to stay in their communities as long as possible. To help achieve this goal, we have built new seniors’ residences for independent living in Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Watson Lake, Teslin, and Faro in recent years. We have begun work to build a similar new seniors’ residence in Mayo and to replace MacDonald Lodge in Dawson City.

While 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.

By creating a larger facility, we can deliver services in an affordable and sustainable manner. It is anticipated that when the first phase of the new facility opens with 150 beds, it will be almost full, almost immediately. Building 15 smaller 10-bed facilities with the necessary 24/7 staffing, kitchens, laundries, cleaning services, and administrative and nursing staff would drive the costs far higher than one facility. We cannot sustain that cost in the long term.

Our recently-announced Whitehorse care facility in the former Oblate Centre that will provide 10 continuing care beds is not a sustainable or desirable long-term solution. It will provide interim relief and potentially alleviate pressures on acute care hospital beds, but is not a model that will solve our ongoing pressures in a cost-effective or appropriate manner.

Yukon families will also benefit from a single facility that can accommodate different types of high-need care. Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that aging married couples who require different levels of care have often been forced to reside in different facilities in order to access the individualized care they require. Such a situation presents real challenges, both to the couple who would prefer to live in the same location, and to families who must travel to different facilities to visit their loved ones. By building a larger facility that encompasses varying levels of high-need care, we will address some of these challenges that have been observed in other jurisdictions. In addition, larger resident populations provide a broader peer group for socializing opportunities and building community.

Whistle Bend was selected as the most suitable location for this important new facility after considering several sites around the city. This decision was made after Yukon government officials worked with City of Whitehorse staff to determine how to best proceed.

By choosing Whistle Bend, Yukon government will be able to integrate the design of the facility into a growing subdivision and ensure that it complements the overall plan for the area. In this way, we can make it part of the community, much like Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay Lodge have seamlessly blended into Copper Ridge and Riverdale respectively. People who live in these areas of Whitehorse value these facilities as important landmarks in their subdivisions.

Yukon offers some of the best continuing care available, thanks to our extraordinary staff and volunteers. By building on our successes, learning from the challenges of other jurisdictions, and working together, we can ensure that we continue to deliver the best health services in the country in a sustainable way.