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Tuesday, 24 July 2012 10:46

Carmangay seniors’ home to be closed

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There may be only about 275 people living in the small community of Carmangay, but they are determined to fight back against Alberta Health Services (AHS) officials who have decided to close the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre.


The 20-bed secured seniors’ facility offers specialized care for residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
This month, employees and family members of the facility found out it will be closed as soon as new homes for residents are found.
“In 1958 it was built. It was the community hospital and auxiliary hospital at that time,” says Dave Shorten, acting vice-president community and rural and mental health, Calgary zone, AHS. “It’s outdated as far as current building codes and in order to bring it up to 2012 Alberta Building Code standards, it needs a significant injection of renovations and money.”
Shorten said it is hard to find parts to repair aging infrastructure and if the building is renovated, costs to do so will be increased if, in all likelihood, asbestos is found.
He adds a transition team will work with families and residents to best identify where residents should be relocated based upon their care needs.
“There will be careful consideration and discussion with the families,” he added.
The approximately 40 staff members (including full-time, part-time and casual) will also be relocated to other facilities if they so choose.
Residents of Carmangay are hoping through writing letters and voicing their concerns about the facility’s closure, other communities will help them in the fight to see this decision reversed. They are also outraged at the suddenness of the decision. Many say it was made with no consultation with families or residents.
Mayor Kym Nichols said the way families are being dealt with has been “disgusting.” Not just being involved in the political scene, she has also worked in the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre for the past 17 years as a nursing attendant.
“I was there when they told us ... we were losing our jobs and they were closing the facility.”
She points out staff who choose to work in other facilities will “bump” out other employees from those facilities if they have seniority.
“That may be your neighbour or a single mom with kids,” says Nichols.
She doesn’t understand why the government has chosen not to re-invest any money in the infrastructure for years and instead the Friends of the Little Bow Society have been raising funds. Nichols also believes the cost of renovating the facility would be cheaper than building new infrastructure.
The building received major renovations in the late 1980s, says Nichols and an addition was built in the 1990s.
With only 275 people in Carmangay and about 40 employed at the facility, that’s almost a quarter of the local workforce. Plus, numerous residents volunteer at the centre.
“We’re not taking this quietly,” she adds about the decision to close the centre. A Facebook group called “Partners for continuing the care at the Little Bow Health Centre” has been created to share letters and stories.
A rally is taking place in Carmangay in front of the community school on July 30 at 2:30 p.m. Everyone is encouraged to attend.
Family members are also not pleased with the closure notice.
Lou Patterson’s father has been in the centre for the past three years. She and her husband lived in Black Diamond where they took care of him for about a year and a half. With his dementia worsening, the couple decided long-term care was their best option and put him on a waiting list for the Black Diamond facility with High River as their second choice. They were told it would be a three-year wait, but a spot in Carmangay would likely open up more quickly.
“When you’re looking after somebody with dementia, it’s pretty tough,” says Patterson. “It’s a 24-7 job.”
In 2009, her father was placed in the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre and while it took him six months to adjust, it now is his home. After commuting once a week to visit her father, the couple decided to sell their Black Diamond home and purchase a house in Carmangay to be closer to him.
She says the atmosphere of the facility is like a family and the staff are exceptionally caring and loving towards the residents. Originally from Denmark, Patterson’s father taught one staff member how to say “I love you” in Danish. When she puts him to bed, she says the phrase to him and he always says it back.
Now on the waiting list for a space in the Vulcan extendicare, Patterson is concerned about the move’s effect on her father’s health, especially in light of the fact it took him six months to transition to the home in Carmangay.
“It’s hard enough watching loved ones slip away as it is —  when you watch it day in and day out as we’ve done for years now.”
She has heard problems with the Carmangay building include that it’s not wheelchair accessible, but all the residents are in wheelchairs and manage to get around. Also the lack of air conditioning in each room is a concern, but Patterson questions the need for that as these seniors are so frail when they are in the dining room which is air conditioned they are in sweaters because they are cold.
Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan, who represents the Wildrose party, also disputes the structural issue as a reason for closing the facility. He points out a new seniors’ facility was recently built in Taber and there is no air conditioning in the clients’ rooms because they find it too cold.
“They’re spewing bulls**t is what it ends up at. They’re (grasping) at straws,” he says.
Patterson also takes exception to Minister of Health Fred Horne, speaking on a television newscast that families, staff and residents of the facility were consulted about the closure.
“Nobody knew — it was a complete blindside,” she counters. “This government should be ashamed of themselves.”
Donovan agrees there has been no consultation.
He says a letter was sent to families dated July 13, but it wasn’t even mailed until July 17. He has now also heard AHS officials are fast-tracking the closure of the facility aiming for mid-August as opposed to September.
He has phoned both the Premier and Horne every day for 10 days asking to speak with them about the facility closure with little success. On Day 10, he says he was finally told by someone in the office that they are too busy to speak with him — a sitting MLA representing the area.
“They are completely railroading (through) this decision. There has been zero transparency and consultation. The government should be ashamed.”
Patterson hopes other Albertans will take up the fight and write to the government. She believes this closure will set the precedent for other homes in the province to be closed in the same manner as does the area’s MLA.
“This is a complete wake-up call for everybody,” adds Donovan. He says at the public meeting held July 12 an AHS official stated all facilities with fewer than 100 beds are under consideration.
“I hope people will stand up and be heard.”
Just as displeased with government is 80-year-old Doreen Miller. Her mother, who will turn 100 in October, has been a resident of the Little Bow Health Centre for the past seven years.
“This was very deviously done,” she says about the decision to close the facility. “We’re very unhappy about that. It’s an insult to our intelligence and a betrayal of the people in there that we weren’t told.”
She only just received her letter from AHS on July 17 informing her that residents will be moved to other facilities. That was after it had already come out in the public. She had heard rumours from the staff that they were at a meeting and told the facility would be closed, but were told not to say anything under the threat they might lose their jobs.
Miller heads over to the centre once a day to feed her mother. She helps out as there are about eight residents who need to be fed and not enough staff to assist everyone. When she can’t be there, she pays someone to feed her mom.
Now she is looking at a half-hour drive to Vulcan — if her mother can get a space in that facility — as Miller lives in the country.
“I’m not going to go every day,” she adds.
If the facility in Carmangay really is closed, she wants a transitional meeting with staff of the new facility so she can better learn their procedures and meet the people caring for her mother.
“She is accustomed to a routine that she is used to and comfortable with,” says Miller about her mother. “Cognitively she may not be as aware, but she knows faces and the people who look after her ... They’re a family up there.”
Miller questions why the facility needs to be emptied so quickly when it passed an inspection this spring.
“They were duty-bound to let us known they were considering (closure) and give us some time to absorb this information and come up with some ideas.”
She has some ideas, but can’t get hold of anyone in power in government to share them.
“I’ve known that hospital for a long time,” she adds.
Miller was an RN and nurse manager and instrumental in seeing the facility changed from an acute care hospital to a long-term care centre in the late 1980s.
“There’s a greater need for long-term care beds now than ever. I don’t understand it.”
She worked in the building when she first moved to Carmangay in 1956. Then left for a few years to work in Lethbridge. When the family returned to the area, she worked on call while raising children, then full-time again starting in 1970. She retired in the early 1990s, but still continues to visit the facility daily to see her mom.
“It’s a nice looking building and well maintained,” says Miller. “It’s in good shape, it’s clean and functional.”
She addresses the lack of working call bells in the rooms to summon nursing care — another concern of AHS officials.
“Even if you got them to all work, (the residents) don’t know how to use them and the ones who understand don’t need them. Plus, they don’t stay in their rooms all days. They are out all together in the family room or dining room.”
Miller calls the whole idea of closing the facility ill-conceived.
“The lack of concern and devious methods used to put this (through) ... I wish they had been more upfront and less devious in their methods.”
Horne said he is sympathetic to the situation in Carmangay, but stresses the aged facility has a number of concerns including a lack of barrier-free washrooms and a lack of an electronic sprinkler system in the event of a fire.
“It’s a difficult situation for the community and I understand that ... There’s a number of serious deficits,” he adds. “While it may have met the building codes of the 1950s, it does not meet today’s standards.
He adds what drives decisions in health care is the ability to deliver a quality of care that is appropriate and what Albertans expect. He commended the staff at the facility for supplying exceptional care, but re-iterated the facility is outdated and “can’t be rehabilitated.”
“The facility has outlived its ability to meet the needs of the residents.”
Horne also addressed the issue of community members’ claims they were not consulted about the potential closure of the facility. He says the information he receives comes from Alberta Health Services.
“We’re always looking to work with the people most effected in a community,” says Horne. “My expectation as Minister of Health is that consultation always happens in this province.”
Anyone who wants to support Carmangay residents can get more information at: www.savelittlebow.com or join the Facebook group called Partners FOR Continuing the Care at Little Bow Health.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor