Community speaks out on continuing care centre closure

The village of Carmangay is located 62 kilometres northwest of Lethbridge, and like many small Alberta communities, a big portion of its population is elderly. Now, those seniors – and their loved ones – are fighting to stay close to home.

The village is upset after learning its continuing care centre is set to close.

“I’m devastated…outrageous,” says Lou Patterson, whose father lives in the Little Bow Continuing Care centre in Carmangay. Patterson’s entire family moved from Black Diamond to be close to her father when a spot at the facility opened at Carmangay.

“They know how to deal with dementia patients – because it’s not always easy,” she explains.

Last week, she got a phone call from Alberta Health Services, informing her the Centre was going to close.

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“I asked you know – when’s all this happening, I didn’t have a clue of any of this stuff – and they said within two to three months.”

“Nobody told us they were closing the facility, gave us any kind of warning,” claims Patterson.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Public Interest Alberta echoed the concerns of Patterson and others with family members in care.

“In Carmangay, the community and family members of the residents of the Little Bow Continuing Care centre learned that that facility – which provides specialized dementia care for 18 persons – would be closed in three months,” said Carol Wodak, with the Continuing Care Watch and the Seniors Action and Liason Team.

“There had been no consultation, no hint of any problem with the facility, nothing known about the decision factors, and there were no options offered to the community,” she went on to say.

Health Minister Fred Horne has a different view. He says the move has been a few months in the making.

“I know that AHS has been planning this relocation for some time – and I know they’ve been working with staff, residents and residents families,” he tells Global News.

Horne says the facility has to be closed because of major problems, including asbestos and unsatisfactory structure.

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“This facility can meet building codes from the 1950s. It can’t even come close to building codes in 2012,” says Horne.

“I think it’s been a thoughtful, well-considered plan. I realize there’s disappointment in the community, but we have to put the quality of care and that physical environment, we have to put that first.”

He goes on to say, “in terms of the planning with residents and the families, that’s been ongoing for several months. Alberta Health Services is picking up all of the costs that are associated with the relocation.”

Still, for some families, that’s not enough. Patterson was told the building needed too many upgrades, but she and the other 17 patients’ families are still concerned.

“We have to put him on a waiting list,” says Patterson. “I’m not satisfied because the first thing they mentioned to me was assisted living. My dad can’t qualify for that, he can’t do anything for himself, how can he live in an apartment where he can have a microwave and a toaster and a pet… he can’t even get out of his bed on his own or go to the bathroom.”

Concerns like Patterson’s sparked a village meeting last week that saw a huge turnout. Most people were upset they weren’t consulted about the closure, and why – since the facility passed an inspection in March – it has to close at all.
“Shame on the Alberta government for trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes,” says Patterson.

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“I don’t think they thought there’d be any kind of this backlash at all,” says Wildrose Party MLA of Little Bow, Ian Donovan. “I think they thought they could just quietly do it and hush on.”

Public Interest Alberta says this latest announcement is just part of a bigger promise the province is not living up to.

“The organizations represented in the PIA seniors task force, expected that these long-term care spaces would be a government top priority. But instead, we find Alberta Health musing about continuing care centres – a very old concept – and consulting with facility operators behind closed doors,” says Noel Somerville, Chair of Public Interest Alberta’s Seniors Task Force.

The government says every facility is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by AHS, and the closure of Little Bow isn’t necessarily a sign of more closures across the province.

“I wouldn’t suggest we have huge numbers of facilities that need to be closed,” says Horne.

“We’ve got to look at building new spaces, and we are building a thousand a year,” he adds, “but we also have to look to renovation of existing facilities, and we’re putting dollars into that as well.”

Horne also says the furthest Carmangay residents would have to move is about 45 minutes to an hour away. However, for some of the patients’ families, driving two hours a day to see their loved ones, is an unacceptable solution.

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Just under half of our province’s 425,000 seniors live in small towns, and 60% of continuing care centres in Alberta are located in small towns. 

 With files from Vassy Kapelos