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Kirwan: Province upgrading LTC beds — it’s our chance to redevelop Pioneer Manor

‘The Ministry of Long-Term Care is providing a significant funding incentive that we should not ignore’

Premier Doug Ford doesn’t hide his feelings when he describes how some seniors in long-term care homes have been neglected and allowed to live in substandard conditions for far too long. In order to address what he calls an unacceptable situation, his government is increasing funding for the building of 8,000 new LTC homes and also for the redevelopment of 12,000 substandard beds in existing homes. 

The new incentive makes this an excellent time for the redevelopment project at Pioneer Manor to be given top priority by city council.

Besides improving the quality of life for 34 per cent of the residents at Pioneer Manor, the redevelopment project will also free up space that could be used by Health Sciences North for ALC patients who are transitioning to long-term care homes or who are waiting for supports to be put in place that will allow them to return to their homes in the community. 

During the current coronavirus pandemic, those ALC patients have been staying at a local hotel in Sudbury. Therefore, a major benefit of the redevelopment of Pioneer Manor could be the opportunity to solve the “hallway medicine” overcrowding problem at HSN.

There are 433 residents with complex needs currently living at Pioneer Manor. A total of 149 of those residents are living in the older section in what the Ministry calls structurally non-compliant rooms built to 1970 design standards. 

They are classed as “B” and “C” level beds. The smaller rooms, hallways, and doorways make it difficult to navigate residents, carts, wheelchairs and modern lifting devices, thus presenting barriers to providing quality resident care. 

The rooms in the older section of the home are not able to accommodate new technology, such as ceiling lifts, which can be used to reduce staff and resident injuries. In addition, the older section of the home does not have air conditioning in the resident rooms, making it difficult to maintain comfortable resident living and staff working conditions when the weather is hot and humid.

Most of the residents in the older section of Pioneer Manor also share one washroom with three other residents. This congregate living situation has led to 57 per cent of the deaths in long-term care homes in Ontario being residents who were living in rooms where four people had to share one washroom. 

Once the redevelopment project is completed all residents will share washrooms with, at most, one other person if they are in a basic semi-private room.

For the past five years, the city has been putting together a plan that will result in the redevelopment of those 149 class “B and C” beds in the older section of Pioneer Manor to 149 class “A” beds in a brand new wing of the facility in order to obtain structural compliance with the Ministry of Long-Term Care requirements for Long-Term Care (LTC) Facilities.

The goal of the ministry is to create a less institutional and more home-like setting, promoting a higher quality of life which will also remove the inequity which currently exists in a home-like Pioneer Manor which currently has 284 residents living in “A” standard rooms while 149 are living in substandard “B” and “C” rooms. 

Most importantly the new long-term care design standard of a washroom for every two basic accommodation residents (rather than four) provides increased privacy and dignity for residents plus greater protection against outbreaks of diseases like COVID-19.

The City of Greater Sudbury has everything in place to make this redevelopment project happen. A business case was prepared last fall for the 2020 budget process. The project was recommended by staff in February this year as the top priority for the Capital Levy funding

allocation. And as part of the Core Services Review, KPMG has identified Pioneer Manor as an essential service. 

The total estimated cost for the redevelopment is $52 million, but the province will pay back over $27 million of that amount through annual construction incentive funding. The provincial funding share may be even greater with the premier’s new incentives announced July 15.

Once the residents are moved into their new rooms, there will be six wings in the facility that could accommodate up to 149 ALC patients from Health Sciences North. 

We desperately need a place for patients who no longer need treatment in a hospital setting, but who may be on a priority waiting list for placement in a long-term care home or who may need some time to recover enough to return to their home in the community with some home care support. 

It would be far less expensive to house the ALC patients in a transitional setting like Pioneer Manor than to keep them at HSN occupying space that could be used by people needing acute care. 

I am sure that a leasing arrangement could be arrived at between the city and HSN which would eliminate hallway medicine in Sudbury. Considering the goal of Premier Ford has always been to end hallway medicine, HSN should easily be able to secure funding from the Ministry of Health for any necessary upgrades to the older rooms so that they could be suitable to accommodate the transitional ALC patients.

The time has come to stop delaying and move forward with the redevelopment project. There is no reason why 149 residents of Pioneer Manor should continue to be forced to live in substandard conditions. 

The Ministry of Long-Term Care is providing a significant funding incentive that we should not ignore. The longer we wait, the more the project is going to cost as prices for labour and materials increase.

And let’s not forget that this may be our best chance of eliminating hallway medicine in Sudbury.

All that is left is for staff to work out the final details with the province then bring the project forward for a final approval by city council. Construction on this project could begin early in 2021 if we move on this opportunity now.

Robert Kirwan is city councillor for Ward 5 and co-chair of the Seniors’ Advisory Panel.