Fire at the Stuart Nechako Manor in Vanderhoof on April 22, which displaced thirty-six residents in long term-care, has re-ignited the conversation around efforts needed to deal with the housing crisis that affects the municipality.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad said there is an urgent need in the community to deal with the housing issue and that creative solutions need to be found. As for the Manor, he said the facility needs to be up and running as soon as possible.
“Long term, there is a need in the community. Historically, we invest heavily in creating these community spaces, but we need to see that continue,” Rustad said.
“I think all families that I have spoken to whether it’s Vanderhoof, Fort St. James or Houston or Burns Lake, they want to be able to see their seniors be able to stay in the community. So we want to see that happen and we have been trying to do more of that, but certainly in the situation we have got here, it is not desirable having seniors leave the community, because we don’t have spaces.”
Currently there are five Manor residents at St. John Hospital, said Eryn Collins, regional manager, public affairs and media relations for Northern Health, adding that others have returned to unaffected areas of the Manor.
She said the residents who were moved to the hospital were housed in patient rooms and in the solarium.
Care staff from the Manor are working at St. John hospital to care for those residents. Collins added that Manor staff have also gone to the hospital to offer additional recreation programs and outings. Residents have access to an occupational therapist as well as the their physician from the Manor, she said.
Due to the lack of space at the hospital, there were 13 residents that were moved to the Gateway Lodge in Prince George.
However, it is not known when all relocated residents will be able to return to the Manor and their rooms, Collins said.
Collins said the current conservative estimate time for repairs on the north side of the Manor is approximately two months. But she added that more extensive repairs in the D-Pod could take roughly four months.
“Careful planning is taking place around returning residents to the facility as space comes back into usable condition and related to their care needs, we are communicating directly with residents and their families around this work,” Collins said.
The cause of the fire is still unknown and under investigation, but is suspected to be electrical in nature, she added. In terms of damages, Collins said the amount could exceed $2 million, however that is just a general estimate. She said Northern Health will be submitting an insurance claim for damages.
When asked if St. John Hospital was accepting any more patients, she said, “the hospital is open for business as usual, to the best of my knowledge.”
Meanwhile, Rustad said that according to him, there should be facilities to take care of seniors but the best solution is finding ways to help seniors continue living in their home.
“Being at home doesn’t work for every family. And we do require facilities, as there is a need for it, but we need to be able to find a way to support seniors to stay in their own homes. It’s better for them, whether they have health issues where they need care. Their home is a familiar environment, they are comfortable there and that would be the best option,” he said.
He said hospitals are an important piece of our health care system for emergencies and for people who want to get treatments, but, “I am not sure whether it is the best place to have long term care. There is sometimes the need to be able to move seniors to hospitals, but it shouldn’t be the option we look at because we don’t have something else.”
Municipalities can set up partnerships in a way where BC Housing and health could also come in to help in building spaces and for providing the necessary support, Rustad said.
“Maybe there is a way that the Ministry of Health could put some support into a facility to help bridge the time needed to get the facility (Stuart Nechako Manor) up and running again. So I really think we need to be creative and that is what northerners and rural communities are best at – is coming to solutions and being creative instead of just looking at others to solve the problem,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mayor Gerry Thiessen said that council is meeting with Northern Health this week to speak with them about their concerns. He said council is looking at three aspects — how to get residents who have been displaced back into the Manor;
“Secondly, how can we make sure that the manor is repaired and whatever the issue is, that these kinds of things don’t happen… The third thing is what do we do long term. So our hope is that the program we have right now with Nechako Valley Community Services, to get 10 units for people that need care. This will be something to get the seniors out of the hospital and into the units,” Thiessen said.
Vanderhoof had received funding for two new housing projects. Nechako Valley Community Services was awarded $2.8 million in November 2018, to build 28 homes for seniors, and $600,000 to build six homes to house a mix of seniors and families.
Thiessen said sending seniors to the hospital is not the answer. He said they were not receiving the same extent of recreation and physiotherapy that they usually do in a residential setting.
“The town has put up property to deal with that. So we think that will be the long term solutions, but we will still continue to find more seniors housing after that,” he said.
Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty in an interview with Vanderhoof Omineca Express said, during the time he was hospitalized last year, he saw decisions being taken about patients who are ‘hallway appropriate.’ He said medical teams and nurses are already taxed to begin with and added to that, they are being put in a position to decided whether patients get a room or are treated in the hallways itself.
“And I think when we are getting to that point and far be it, for me to say this, I think that when it gets to that point it is shame on all of us,” Doherty said.
“Housing is a major issue and we have to find ways to tackle it. I don’t have answers but I know that it’s not going to be a single source answer. I think we have to get people around the table. We have to get communities and groups such as the NCLGA, UBCM, our municipalities that are talking together to identify these issues,” he added.
He echoed the same sentiment about the necessity of community based solutions, and that provincial and federal governments need to empower communities to come up with that solution.