Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

An exterior shot of the $146.6-million site shows parking space for staff and visitors. Tucked just behind the sign is the entryway to underground parking.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

The new facility houses a First Nations healing room on the ground floor, complete with a fire pit and water feature. A devotional room is also available for residents.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Cecilia Fraser, manager of resident care, offers a tour to media of a larger room that can be used for bariatric residents or couples — complete with larger windows and a chair.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Most rooms come equipped with a bed, closet and chair, but residents can bring in their own furniture if they pre- fer. A washroom is tucked just behind the hand washing station, and large window offers a view of gardening ar- eas or surrounding mountains.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

A shot of the third floor shows a dining area and kitchen. Some dietary staff are already at the site getting used to the kitchen equipment and areas ahead of the late-October intake period.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Karen Chan

Yukoners welcome new care facility

The largest infrastructure project in the territory’s history held its grand opening Wednesday – though it’s not quite ready to accept residents just yet.

By Palak Mangat on September 13, 2018

The largest infrastructure project in the territory’s history held its grand opening Wednesday – though it’s not quite ready to accept residents just yet.

In fact, it will be at least another month or so until residents can begin calling the new Whistle Bend Place (WBP) home, as those eyeing to make their way in will have to wait until late October.

Hiring for the continuing care facility has been called an unprecedented exercise for the government (and by the government), which saw the site come with a nearly $150-million price-tag.

Officials confirmed Wednesday that of the some 250 workers expected at the facility, about 180 have been hired so far – with more than 140 of those being Yukoners, a release noted.

The 150-bed project clocks in with a final price-tag of about $146.6 million. Premier Sandy Silver noted that he is proud to see that PCL Construction worked with a number of local firms on the site: Norcope and Energy North among them.

He noted that the site is expected to have all new residents settled into the home early in the new year. An official explained the vast majority are hoped to be in by the holiday season.

“All the people from the community waiting list and all the people from the hospital (will) be moved in by Christmas,” said Karen Chan, an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS).

“Then some from Macaulay in the new year,” she added.

That’s Riverdale’s aging Macaulay Lodge, one of the territory’s five continuing care facilities, which it hopes to eventually close.

Once it’s decommissioned and WBP begins accepting residents, there will again be a total of five in the Yukon - with WBP joining Whitehorse’s Birch Lodge, Copper Ridge Place and Thomson Centre, along with McDonald Lodge in Dawson City.

Chan explained that some residents may be ready to move in while others may need more time, so it was difficult to say whether the facility would be filled up right off the bat.

“It’s hard to know because sometimes people are waiting and say not quite,” we’re not ready yet, she said.

But she added that the department expects to have about 100 to 120 beds filled by the time residents come in from the waiting list and hospital.

The admissions team will work to prioritize which residents will move in first, Chan said.

“Some families are struggling more than others ... (but) we don’t want to be rushing people,” she added.

“We want to take the time and staff want to get to know them too.

“And our staff need to know the building, it’s a brand-new facility.”

The team will likely welcome three or four residents a day beginning in late October, taking into consideration that “families need to adjust.”

The new facility comes equipped with, among other things: woodworking studios, indoor and outdoor spaces for gardening, a hair salon, a gym, and a devotional room.

That’s in addition to a First Nation healing room on the ground floor, multipurpose spaces and living rooms spread out amongst the three floors where residents will live. (There is a fourth floor but it is a mechanical penthouse, officials explained.)

It also hosts about 705 rooms, and includes activity spaces that either staff or residents can use.

It’s something in line with the government’s overall goal to help those living in the territory age in place.

“We have heard from Yukoners that they want to age in their communities as long as possible,” Silver told a packed room of visitors made up of media and the general public Wednesday afternoon.

That’s why an active effort was made to “support independent quality living that is social and inclusive.”

That feeling of inclusivity is significant in creating a nurturing environment for seniors, whether they be born and raised Yukoners or not, said Mayor Dan Curtis.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re from here, you’re here now and you’re home now.

“So welcome home,” Curtis smiled, laughing that his mother was also in the audience for the opening.

“It’s not a warehouse, it’s not something to ensure someone has a place to hang their hat,” the mayor added, suspecting the facility is unique not only to the Yukon but the country.

What isn’t new, though, is the territory’s aging population: the Yukon Bureau of Statistics’s annual statistical review released in July shows that those aged 65 or older made up about 12 per cent of the territory’s total population in 2017. By 2023, that number is expected to climb into the 20 per cent range.

The grand opening comes after the department admitted it was experiencing some housing woes in July. It did so after it had turned to some of its existing HSS employees to see if they would consider opening up their homes to new workers for the care centre.

Posters and a notice in an internal newsletter were circulated earlier that month.

With now just a month or so left until residents begin moving in, the government is setting up “ambassadors” for some incoming workers, said Chan said, who herself is from Ontario.

“The ambassadors are our own staff,” she said: the team tries to match up those with kids with a parent that’s knowledgeable about things like schools and daycares, for example.

“It’s really staff and people helping people.”

Chan noted that some local hotels have offered rooms, but said that was left up to the individual person to make personal accommodations.

Back at the site, walking through the hallways of the facility, it’s easy to note the different coloured and textured walls – something that was a conscious thought when it came to the designing, the department said.

“That’s part of the way-finding for residents who have dementia,” explained Cecilia Fraser, the manager of resident care for the project, as she gave a tour of the site to media personnel.

“It’s to cue people where they’re at.”

Those living with dementia were also given consideration when the building was designed – with floors looping around walls to prevent getting lost.

“We may cohort some folks, but they won’t be separate necessarily,” Fraser said when asked if those living with dementia would be separated from other residents.

That means there may be some of the seven houses that tend to be for those who have more acute needs.

To further accommodate these residents, Fraser pointed out the bracelet system that allows the site to track in real time where those who are at risk of wandering end up (such as elevators) will prove helpful.

“We tried to pay attention to details in having quiet and more active areas as well,” she continued, gesturing toward a living room-like space minus the TV.

That will give residents a more quiet spot where they may want to visit their families or do programming.

The paint and names of each of the seven “houses” was chosen by a resident committee, Fraser added, with it eventually settling on names of individual bodies of water (the media were given a tour of the Bear Lake house).

Most of the 150 resident rooms come equipped with a bathroom, bed, closet, and chair.

“Every bathroom has its own shower which is great – at Macaulay Lodge, we don’t have those because it’s older,” Fraser noted.

There are also “fairly extensive garden” plans in the works for the site.

One of those may be outside the First Nation healing room, along with indoor garden boxes on each patio and terrace and a large therapeutic garden for residents and visitors.

There are also four larger rooms at the site that can be used for bariatric residents or couples, Fraser said. That will ensure some flexibility that will allow the team to work with those who have special requests.

“Some couples like to stay together – they can share a room, or some may choose to have two separate rooms just close by.”

In the meantime, some staff have already begun filtering in and out as they prepare for the late October intake: they include housekeeping, dietary and technical staff.

Fraser confirmed that has been going on for the last three weeks or so – which is in line with the department spokesperson telling the Star in July that it hoped to have staff in the building and begin training “well before the grand opening.”

As for the remaining 70-odd workers that still need to be hired, Chan is not sure when exactly they will be at the new site.

“We’re getting new folks every single day,” she smiled.

“We certainly now have enough staff to open to care for all the folks on the waiting list and (from) hospital.”

Some of the 70 positions still needing to be filled include registered nurses and nurse supervisors, she added, but “it’s a little bit of everything.”

A department spokesperson confirmed that some of the staff already hired spoke French and Tagalog, as it knew some of the incoming residents would be francophone and of Filipino descent.

Meanwhile, department officials estimated that about 1,000 people flocked to the site Wednesday to tour the facility.

As for the long term, Curtis added he’s hopeful that in the coming years, a number of developments will begin to form around the site.

“For anyone to suggest ... this may not happen – I live in Riverdale, I’ve been there for over 20 years, and it will be more accessible here in Whistle Bend than in the largest community” of Whitehorse, he said.

Laughing, the mayor added: “The nice thing is I won’t have to hear about another bridge in to Whistle Bend, so for that I’m very grateful.”

Comments (15)

Up 18 Down 3

Yukoner79 on Sep 17, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Kudos to everyone involved in the building of this magnificent facility. Sorry to the Liberals who "inherited this mess", but they are sure quick to take credit for it now. Congratulations to the Yukon Party, who envisioned and began this much-needed facility. I hope the staff and residents are proud going forward.
I also hope all those who continuously comment on how it should have been made smaller and more should have been built around the Yukon, actually research what it is going to take to run this place. Specialists, medical staff, specialized medical equipment. None of which would be something the government could easily farm out to communities. This is specialized care - not senior or elder care, specifically.
This is a population with complex medical issues or requiring palliative care. I will be so lucky if I can secure myself a spot in this beautiful building. I hope I will never need to, but at least I know it will be available. Once again, congrats to all involved in this wonderful facility.

Up 11 Down 18

Why not a FN healing room? on Sep 17, 2018 at 12:52 am

To 'Concerned': Why not a FN Healing Room? There has been lots of trauma in First Nations families due to historical wrongs and it's not excluding anybody. First Nations art and culture are positives to be valued and I see this room as doing that, for FN, and being a healing space for everybody, regardless of race. Don't cry the blues because non FN culture doesn't have their own healing room. After the atrocities of residential school, and the racism that is still very prevalent in Yukon and Canada, we need to start somewhere and valuing a culture by making it significant in a healing room is a great start.

Up 18 Down 8

Concerned on Sep 15, 2018 at 8:35 am

Our tour group asked about the foundation and was told was not to be discussed. Is this a safe building? Also it was made clear that the healing room was for use by all residents so not sure why is called first nation healing room?

Up 25 Down 1

Yukon Watchdog on Sep 15, 2018 at 8:34 am

@ PSG You seem to be mixing up continuing care with senior/elder housing in the community/communities.
A continuing care unit requires medical practitioners, medical equipment, etc. - things even Whitehorse will be lucky to get in sufficient quantities. To think each Yukon community can support a small continuing care facility tells me you have absolutely no idea about the realities of the Yukon and/or whatever you are smoking is of the most excellent quality so as to remove you completely from reality.
Get a grip. You are way out to lunch on this one.

Up 14 Down 4

Hugh Mungus on Sep 14, 2018 at 1:50 pm

@ DempsterGuy
It's under budget . You clearly missed the years of consultation done by the YP and later the Libs on this project. It's literally been touted as the largest capital project in the Yukon and you seem somehow surprised by that.

Up 19 Down 3

Hugh Mungus on Sep 14, 2018 at 1:48 pm

@ Brian
Point of clarification, Whistle Bend Place isn't 'Elder Care' it's a Continuing Care facility. Being and 'Elder' is not a requirement.

Up 8 Down 26

ProScience Greenie on Sep 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm

"without realizing what services are required..." - Actually Brian Melanson, I keep myself very informed on all you mention by keeping up on policies and I have many discussion about the and the alternatives with many of my Yukon family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Also, something you may or may not be aware of, the Yukon is a very small place and because everyone and their dog is close to someone that works for the various levels of government, the inner workings - the good, the bad and the ugly - are very, very transparent. So best to not assume myself and others you disagree with have zero knowledge or are being negative just for the sake of being negative.

Anyways, my point was about spreading the gravy about the Yukon and creating more prosperity and sustainable growth in all the Yukon communities, not just Whitehorse. Doing that, imho, is both a wise and a positive thing to do and something to date, I'd have to give all political parties have poor grades on. There's way more to the Yukon land and people than just what's in CoW city limits. That includes Ross River, a place with many fine people in a beautiful setting.

Up 18 Down 4

Wilf Carter on Sep 14, 2018 at 1:18 pm

Ok - let's talk the truth. There were problems and they were fixed properly. If you are in pain and have problems this facility will help you live a better lifestyle.
Smaller units will not bring the services to Yukoners who need this now and for the last many years.

Up 12 Down 17

DempsterGuy on Sep 14, 2018 at 10:19 am

Just a paltry $146.6M good lord! Where is the fiscal prudence and accountability?

Up 39 Down 12

Brian on Sep 14, 2018 at 6:21 am

@ Proscience Greenie

Your so offended by Whitehorse getting a facility to house elders, without realizing what services are required to care for people in the last stage of their life.
Yeah, lets build a bunch of small Seniors homes in all the communities so that not only do we have a hard time finding RN's to staff these community Nursing centres, that we bring them in from Nova Scotia, but now you think that we should stick our elders into homes in the communities that have no doctors, and no support staff. Do you even know how many LPN's, Care attendant and RN's are assigned to each elder? There's about 4 people who's job it is to care for our elders, yeah, your gonna get 4 or more medical professionals to go live in Ross River!!! Right.

This care facility was needed badly, but Yukon has about 3000 jobs opening up in Mining come spring. That many more folks moving here, that many more grandparents coming to help support the grand kids, that many more born Yukoners returning home after 20-30 years abroad.

You try and make some sorta political issue about a standard issue facing many Canadians.
Do something positive Proscience Greenie, like, Candy stripe at the hospital.

Had enough of your negative opinions

Brian Melanson

Up 15 Down 14

Ilove Parks on Sep 13, 2018 at 8:57 pm

Heh trades guy, I saw no cracks

It concerns me that it will cost about $233,000 per bed each year. Let's look at a different model for additional beds.
Let's have a 25 bed facility here and there and in the communities and let's see home care that will cost far less.

Up 17 Down 7

Martin on Sep 13, 2018 at 8:10 pm

To trades guy: Why? Hollywood only shows facades, and the the people of "Fantasy Island" will distract you with "le plane".

Up 23 Down 5

Lost In the Yukon on Sep 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm

... while the new ADM is taking all the pats on the back for this let's not forget the former ADM (and 1st) of Continuing Care. She worked tirelessly to raise the standards of care in these facilities and brought in accreditation ... she also spearheaded this project and even though her concerns where ignored she worked professionally to make it happen. It would have been nice to have heard someone in HSS publicly acknowledge her contributions.

Up 33 Down 19

trades guy on Sep 13, 2018 at 4:56 pm

No tours of the basement to show off the cracking and deformation?
Still sinking.....

Up 16 Down 53

ProScience Greenie on Sep 13, 2018 at 3:47 pm

Should have been a scaled back facility with more smaller facilities built in the communities so our elders would not have to leave family, friends and familiar surrounding during their final days. But, as always, this was about Whitehorse getting the gravy, rather than seeing our Yukon communities and their citizens, grow and prosper.

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