After 66 years of marriage, Terry and Alma Bonnett just want to be together. But because of the way Alberta’s health care system is set up, they’re living out their final years in different homes.
The pair used to live together at Rosealta Lodge in Camrose, Alta. But two years ago, 89-year-old Alma had an accident that restricted more than just her mobility – it meant she wouldn’t live with her husband anymore.
“I broke my hip and then I had to get out of here because they don’t help anybody too much,” she said.
Alma was moved a few blocks away, to Aspen Cottage – a long-term care facility where she could get more assistance. But Terry was left behind at the lodge. His care needs didn’t warrant moving him with his wife.
According to their daughter, Deloris Bonnett, the separation has left them both depressed.
“It’s hard on a person,” Terry explained. “You’ve been together that many years and then you get ready for bed and you get lonesome. There’s nobody to talk to in the evening. You sit here like a bump on a log.”
Terry tries to visit his wife daily, but the weather can cause problems for the 84-year-old.
“If you’ve got cold weather she’d just have to sit there by herself because I can’t bring my buggy back and forth. I could walk that distance, but if I fell down halfway the crows would get me.”
They asked if Terry could just move into Alma’s facility, but Alberta Health Services said that’s not feasible.
“The couple have very different care needs. One is in a care centre, the other is in an independent living situation. That’s where the problem comes from,” Dr. James Silvius with AHS explained.
“If the person with lesser needs moves in, it means somebody who has actual long-term care needs can’t move in and may end up having to be placed way outside their community,” Silvius said. “So it’s about trying to balance all those perspectives.”
Watch below: Some seniors in Alberta are being separated by the system. Even though they are married, levels of care dictate where they can live. As Quinn Ohler reports, it could be years before other couples are able to live out their golden years together.
But Terry doesn’t want, or need, his own room. He just wants to share a room with his wife again.
“Take my single bed – put it beside hers and the wall. That’s all I would need,” he said.
“But they don’t agree with you,” Alma added.
Bethany Group, the organization running the nursing homes in Camrose, said its hands are tied. The group’s facilities only accommodate one level of care at each building.
“Unless they are assessed for higher care, there is no capacity to look after or have the spouse that’s more independent live in the same facility,” said Denis Beesley, the group’s president and CEO.
Terry and Alma are not alone in Alberta. Many other senior couples are facing the same hardships.
“We’ve got lots of places for just one person – but there’s nothing for doubles, couples. Why can’t they have couples?” Alma questioned.
“We are actually trying to build more multi-level facilities so that people can age in place, and as their care needs change, they can remain together. But we are dealing with a legacy system,” Silvius said.
Until the system catches up, or exceptions can be made, the Bonnetts will continue to pass the time in different homes.
“It’s lonesome,” Terry said. “Because usually when night comes we’re sitting here watching TV or talking or something. Now you just stare at the wall.”