Families demanding province boost funding to thwart cutbacks at Princeton, B.C., care home

Click to play video 'Princeton care home cutbacks' Princeton care home cutbacks
Princeton care home cutbacks – Oct 29, 2020

Families of seniors residing at the only assisted living facility in Princeton, B.C., are calling on the province to boost funding before looming hospitality service cuts are implemented.

Princeton & District Community Services Society (PDCSS), a local non-profit agency, has owned and operated the 17-unit Vermilion Court assisted living facility near the town’s downtown core since 2004.

Dale Sunderland says her 96-year-old mother, Leona Doerksen, has lived at the facility for the past 11 years.

Sunderland says she was shocked when her mother received a letter notifying her of the cutbacks, especially during a global pandemic and just before winter sets in.

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“It would be more like a seniors apartment,” Sunderland said of the pending changes.

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The letter, dated Oct. 15, said Vermilion Court will no longer be registered with the Assisted Living Registry and will be converted to a senior’s independent living facility, effective Dec. 15.

The letter, signed by the PDCSS board of directors, said it is no longer financially feasible for the non-profit agency to subsidize the facility’s hospitality services.

“The PDCSS board of directors has tried for many years and exhausted all avenues to secure adequate funding in order to continue to maintain the regulatory assisted living standards of care,” the letter goes on to say.

“Unable to do so, PDCSS has incurred increasing deficits for many years.”

Dale Sunderland and her husband, Matt, visit with her mother, Leona Doerksen, at Vermilion Court on Wednesday. Global News

That means meals, suit cleaning, laundry assistance and building security will be stopped, the agency said.

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Sunderland says her mother currently pays approximately $1,100 per month, or 70 per cent of her income, towards rent and assisted living services.

Interior Health will continue to fund health-care services at the facility, such as bathing, dressing and assistance with medications, as well as care management and ongoing assessments, the health authority said in a statement to Global News.

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“We recognize the Society’s changes may frustrate and worry those living at Vermilion Court,” it said.

“Interior Health reassures everyone that the home support services people need will not be impacted by the Society’s changes.”

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Sunderland said she met with Interior Health last week and was informed that meals may be provided by the Princeton hospital.

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Residents will be responsible for hiring their own housekeepers and paying for their own medical alert systems, in case of a fall or injury, she said.

“It is still a worry. The security, I really don’t like the security gone,” she said.

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Sunderland’s mother, Leona, said she’s not in favour of service cutbacks.

“I don’t like it. It’s going to be a very big change for all of us, because I have been here 11 years,” the senior said.

“Some girls cannot cook, they say they are going to have to move out, they say they cannot do it.”

Funding request

Doerksen’s family is calling on the provincial government to increase funding and maintain current service levels.

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“Mr. Horgan was saying that he was going to give more money to seniors, so hopefully he could give a little more to them,” Sunderland said.

“They do deserve a lot more respect,” her husband, Matt Sunderland, said.

“More funding, step up and help the seniors.”

Read more: B.C. party leaders trade seniors’ home care promises on campaign trail Sunday

Spencer Coyne, the town’s mayor, said his grandmother also lives at the facility, and that he’s been lobbying provincial politicians to help address the funding shortfall.

“I have been working with Community Services trying to find bridge funding. I’ve also talked to the candidates during the election and I’ve gotten a commitment from Premier-elect John Horgan at a rally in Oliver that there will be funding available. We just have to find the funding model for it to fit in,” he said.

Coyne reassured residents and their families that no one will be forced to transfer to another facility.

“There will be nobody transferred. Interior Health did assessments with all of the residents and nobody will be moving,” he said.

“This is something that affects all of us as a community, and that’s why we have been working tirelessly to try and solve the problem,” Coyne added.

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Donation clawback

The community outcry in response to the sharp cutbacks has some local residents and past financial contributors to the facility demanding their money back.

Sandy Wilson said both her mother and father resided at Vermilion Court before they passed away.

Princeton & District Community Services, a local non-profit agency, has owned and operated the 17-unit Vermilion Court assisted living facility near the town’s downtown core since 2004. Global News

In the wake of her father’s death in 2008, the family decided to donate $50,000 to assist with the purchase of a vacant property next to Vermilion Court to expand the facility.

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“We feel that if it goes to where it is just a seniors complex, and not a supportive or assisted living, why should they keep the money for it?” she asked.

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“There are a lot of people who donated money feeling that it was going to be kept as assisted living. It is greatly needed here in town, there are a lot of people that need it.”

Society responds

Becky Vermette, executive director of Princeton and District Community Services Society, declined an interview with Global News and did not respond to written questions.

“Currently we are in the middle of negotiations regarding our Vermilion Court seniors building and we don’t want to risk the confidentiality of those negotiations,” she said in an email.

However, in a Facebook post dated Oct. 22, the society said progress has been made in securing additional funding, but it is unable to share details “until we have definitive answers.”

“We are confident at this point that at the very least Vermilion Court will continue offering a meal service to residents,” PDCSS said in the post.

“We would like to emphasize that residents of Vermilion Court are not being asked to leave their homes, however we realize that the loss of services may cause some residents to make that choice,” the society said.

“We are hopeful that after negotiations we will be able to offer services that will keep residents in their homes but right now we do not know what those services will encompass.”