Left with few options and long waitlists, Terrace seniors are staying in hospital beds for months until availability opens up at the city’s only long-term care facility.
Christene Sinjur says Mills Memorial has become a second home for her within the last year. Her mother passed away from brain cancer on her birthday last August within five weeks of being diagnosed. Then in late February, her father Lloyd Kennedy could no longer take care of himself while battling several medical conditions, most severely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
But there is no room available at Terraceview Lodge, a long-term care facility operated by Northern Health. The family’s only option was to pay $1,500 a month for Sinjur’s father to stay in a hospital bed while they waited. The 80-year old has been there for the last six months.
“He’s moved up, he’s number 16 now on the [Terraceview] waiting list,” Sinjur says. “It’s a very sad thing when you have to wait for someone’s loved one to die for your dad to get up there.”
Hospital beds at Mills Memorial are not intended for long-term palliative care, but 13 out of the 32 beds available — 40 per cent — are being used by seniors, Sinjur says. Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins says the number of seniors awaiting placement at Mills averages between two to six people with an average waiting time of six and a half months for Terraceview.
“It could be that they’re waiting for programs in the community to support their discharge because they can’t be safely discharged home, or they have qualified for 24/7 long-term care and are awaiting placement,” Collins says.
The need for capacity is so dire, in some cases, Sinjur says she’s spoken to families who have made the difficult decision to ‘abandon’ their loved ones at Terraceview because the facility has an obligation to take them in.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t visit them, but this is another way to get someone into Terraceview. You have to abandon them up there. They can’t refuse you.”
Unlike the hospital, the care for seniors at Terraceview is not clinical. There are social gatherings for residents, like bingo and other activities that create a community living environment.
“[Mills Memorial] has one TV in the main room but sometimes they get so full, they have to close the room down to put patients in it,” Sinjur says. Even though the care provided by the nurses at Mills is ‘outstanding,’ she says they are often overworked and understaffed.
“They try really hard to get them into a social aspect…they try their best, but their best isn’t good enough.”
Collins says while hospital staff try to make their stay as home-like as possible, the beds at Mills are often at full capacity and meant for short-term stay. She says the health authority is currently focussed on improving supports for senior patient discharge from hospital rather than adding more beds because seniors tend to prefer staying at home as long as possible.
Six years ago, Margaret Ann Baxter’s late mother could no longer take care of herself and was on the waitlist for Terraceview. She lived at Mills Memorial for approximately four months.
“Once she got ill, trying to find somewhere that was safe both physically and emotionally was really difficult. They just kept her at the hospital because she couldn’t go home,” Baxter says. “There just isn’t enough [seniors housing], and not enough variety.”
At Mills Memorial, Baxter says her mom spent most of the day with little social interaction.
“There were a number of them in the same boat. Some days they got them up and got them dressed…sometimes they would roll them down to the dayroom and plug them in front of the TV. But it’s not much of a life — you get to a point when you’re pretty depressed, so you just lay there. It was sad.”
City freeman Yvonne Moen approached the city’s Housing Committee last May to voice concerns about the lack of senior housing in Terrace. With a growing age demographic, another complex for seniors is needed to keep up with demand, Moen says. It took her between seven to eight months to get a bachelor unit at the low-income Tuck senior residence complex.
“After all, the seniors built this community and [the city] should be looking after them. They should still fight for their people,” Moen says.
Over the years the city has completed two housing needs assessments and is planning to undertake a third in 2020. The study will analyze census data to address the growing seniors demographic, which can be used to develop more senior housing and access federal and provincial funding opportunities.
“The City and its Housing Committee will continue to look for opportunities for funding and partnerships in the community to identify projects and support a variety of housing to meet all community needs,” wrote city planner David Block in an email to the Terrace Standard.
While the city says it has not recently applied for any provincial housing grants for future senior housing projects, it has partnered and provided land, or offered support and financing through the Affordable Housing Fund.
“The City is not in a position to develop housing, but it will partner with and support other community organizations that do,” Block says.
One housing developer is looking to build low-income affordable housing for seniors on Halliwell Avenue, though it will not have access to 24/7 palliative care like Terraceview.
Lyle Salekin of CDG Construction is proposing a bare lands strata development to subdivide and construct houses on smaller lots, which could be well-suited for seniors looking for lower-priced housing.
Block says the city also has a phased strata subdivision application from Riverside Meadows for a property on Graham Avenue to develop more than 40 homes in a single or duplex construction to offer more affordable housing.
In the meantime, if something does open up at Terraceview, Sinjur says it will be up to her father to decide if he wants to go. But demand for capacity for seniors in need of more intensive care is only going to exacerbate as the population grows, she says.
“My mom was 77 years old — that’s another 20-plus years for me. What is this town going to have for us?” she says.
B.C. Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie will be visiting Terrace, Kitimat and the Nass to provide information on benefits and services available to seniors from Oct. 15-17.
The advocate will be in Terrace on Oct. 15 at the Happy Gang Centre at 2 p.m. along with MLA Linda Reid, the critic for seniors.