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Thursday, 25 May 2017 08:00

Back to the drawing board for Bassano’s Aging in Community project after Province rejects part of plan

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Officials with the Newell Foundation are back to the drawing board after more than six years of work and planning. Since early 2011, officials with the management body, which operates two seniors lodges (one in Brooks and one in Bassano) as well as eight self-contained seniors apartments in Bassano, have been working on an innovative rural project for aging in community.

“The project (in Bassano) ... was a collaborative plan that incorporated supported living, a dementia wing, long-term care, community services and acute care in an efficient building,” says a news release from the Newell Foundation.
It was undertaken with the expectation that replacement of the Bassano Health Centre would occur, creating new spaces for additional affordable supportive living spaces as well as long-term care beds.
Finally, after correspondence back and forth with the Ministry of Health that started last fall, Newell Foundation officials received a letter dated May 1 that states the government at this time is “not in a position to accept (the) proposal for the capital replacement of the Bassano Health Centre.”
The aging in community project so hinged on the capital replacement of the health centre, that Newell Foundation officials are now choosing to shelve the concept as they wait for further communication with the government. They will also hand back a $3.4-million Affordable Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI) grant they received in March 2015 for 34 affordable supportive living spaces.
Barry Morishita, chair of the Newell Foundation and Mayor of Brooks, says officials have always received positive feedback about the unique rural project, but nothing official from the Minister of Health that it could proceed as the Bassano Health Centre would be replaced. Confirmation that those important capital upgrades weren’t going to happen was received in the form of a letter earlier in May.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, in that letter, did state she looked forward to seeing the already-approved ASLI and Lodge Renewal Program projects being completed. A letter was also received from Alberta Seniors and Housing asking for the foundation to reconfirm its plans for the Aging in Community Project without the health-centre component.
“It was an integrated operational model,” points out Morishita. “It is not a sustainable financial model without the participation of the health-care component.”
Morishita says the plan included staff through the Bassano Health Centre providing the care, maintenance, food services and programs needed to augment the health portion of the aging in community model.
“It was operationally integrated. It’s impossible to move forward,” he adds. “As the project sits now, we will not be building any supportive living or long-term care spaces and therefore we will be returning the $3.4-million grant.”
Newell Foundation officials are also unsure how to proceed with the renewal of the Playfair Lodge and how to access a $9.6-million (combined federal and provincial) grant, as there is a caveat on title which allows only a hospital to be built on the site north of the existing health centre.
Officials with the Newell Foundation have also been frustrated with the lack of correspondence from government and how long it has taken to get confirmation about the capital plans for the Bassano Health Centre.
Tom Rose, the mayor of Bassano, is disappointed about the turn of events.
“I find it very disturbing that the NDP government talks about how seriously they take health care, seniors and aging in place and yet they reject this extremely innovative project that will help keep our seniors in our community,” he said in a news release.
“This is not just a Bassano project, but rather a regional project that would keep our seniors here and at the same time, we would be able to maintain a health centre that is already a busy facility. I am very disappointed in the lack of communication from ‘our’ provincial government.”
Morishita admits without some detailed conversation with government officials, they are unsure as to what can be done in Bassano for seniors. Currently the only opportunity is to create seniors’ lodge spaces, but in Bassano there is not enough volume to make it sustainable without impacting taxpayers in the community.
“Without the integral component (of health care), viability is an issue,” he adds.
Morishita also questions a government that states it wants aging in place for seniors, but then chooses not to support that everywhere, especially in rural areas, and instead focuses funding support in urban centres.
“Community for an aging senior is their family, the people they grew up with,” he adds. “If we’re not building in that capacity, we’re saying aging in place is a great idea, but we’re not doing that in a smaller place ... We’re denying those residents the opportunity to have what we value and what we’re saying is important.”
Morishita wants to see some resources put to rural ideas, such as the aging in community project, so innovations for rural Alberta can come to the surface.
Foundation officials started seeking assurance about the Bassano Health Centre capital project last fall, with additional letters written to the Minister of Health in January, February as well as a phone conversation in March all asking for an in-person meeting to discuss the project.
Morishita says further plans in Bassano will only be considered once there is an opportunity to thoroughly discuss the now outstanding issues related to this project with the Minister of Health.
“We are hopeful,” he adds, about some solution being found. “The board will never give up on this idea, but we’ve reached a point in this long journey to conclusion, that we’re not getting the feedback we require to take another step forward.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor