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Fort Frances Times: Lack of assisted living for seniors worries families, caregivers

Elderly in need of more care here

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Originally published  in the Fort Frances Times June 8, 2011

By Zoey Duncan

“My mom is going to die in Rainycrest. There’s no doubt about it.”June Caul is heartbroken when she speaks about her mother. At 87, Mary Caul lives at the local long-term care facility after a series of strokes prompted her family to move her there three years ago.

But Caul has watched her mother fall into depression in those years spent living in a facility that is not equipped to support people who are well enough to clothe and feed themselves, enjoy taking walks on the lake, have strong, healthy memories, and who simply crave more independence.

“I’m really frustrated,” said Caul, who tries to take her mother out of Rainycrest at least three times a week for visits.

“And just really sad to think that this is what her life has to be.

“She’s depressed all the time and she is able to do more than what goes on there, and it breaks my heart to see her so sad and she hates it in there.”

Wayne Woods, CEO of Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc., acknowledged that Rainycrest and other local health services currently can’t meet all the needs of the aging community.

“Obviously, there is definitely a need in the community. I think people are recognizing that,” he remarked. “Right now, your options are the hospital long-term care or try and do some home care.

“But there has to be a different level for people that just need a little bit of assistance,” Woods conceded.


June Caul holds a photo of her parents. Zoey Duncan photo.

Locally, 18.9 percent of the population is over age 65, compared to 13.7 percent of Canada’s population, according to the 2006 census.

And 37 percent of the population here—3,035 individuals as of 2006—is over 50.

Many local seniors and their families will, at some point, have to face the decision of what kind of care they need to live healthy and happy lives as they age and their needs change.

Provincially, the government has encouraged programs that keep people living in their own homes longer, such as the billion-dollar “Aging At Home Strategy,” which, according to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term care, aims to ensure that “seniors’ homes support them, that seniors have supportive social environments, that senior-centered care is easy to access, and identifying innovative solutions to keep seniors healthy.”

The local Assisted Living Action Group is hoping to make a new option available here—a place for people like Mary Caul who no longer can live safely alone in their homes but who are capable of many independent activities.

“People have left Fort Frances and the district because there is no facility like that,” said Robert Schulz, co-chair of the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (S.A.L.T.), which oversees the ALAG.

“We’re looking at the private sector to get involved here. But we have to show a contractor that it’s a valuable project to get into,” he noted.

The group has asked town council to support its effort by providing future considerations in the town’s strategic plan.

Fellow S.A.L.T. co-chair Bob Armit questions the existence of a long-term plan for the town’s aging population.

“We build our cemeteries along the river and we build our long-term care facilities in a swamp,” he noted.

“If a long-term plan was in place, would that have happened?

“We’re not pointing fingers at this [town] administration,” Armit stressed. “It’s just that they didn’t always plan long-term back then.

“All our group is looking for in this is that we would like to have the seniors retiring in a healthy, enjoyable retirement setting,” he reasoned.

Assisted living facilities vary in design across the country, but Schulz said he’d like to see a facility in Fort Frances provide meals and a 24-hour nurse.

Wendy Derendorf is a case manager with the North West Community Care Access Centre, where she assesses the service needs of elderly clients. She noted health care ideally should be holistic—a goal assisted living can meet.

Derendorf has a positive impression of assisted living after visiting a family member in a Ranier, Mn. residence a few years ago.

“You walked in, it had a huge sunroom, it had a huge living room, the dining room,” she recalled. “And then it had a huge kitchen, and then the bedrooms were separated, men and women, sort of on a wing.”

Assistance there included medication reminders, shower assistance, and meals, added Derendorf, though it was not meant to support individuals with severe health issues.


Since there is no equivalent locally, seniors and their families are adapting—or at least trying to adapt—in other ways.

“My husband, he’s hurt himself and he’s got a bad heart [but] as long as I’m around, I can help him,” noted Joyce LaFreniere.

“But if something should happen to me, I know he wouldn’t want to head for Rainycrest, whereas assisted living would be something that certainly would be much more conducive for him.

“As we get older, we’re all wondering and I don’t want to go with family,” LaFreniere added. “That is not an option for me.”

Other seniors have looked to Meals on Wheels for help when concerns such as arthritis or failing vision impairs their ability to prepare their own meals.

“There’s lots of elderly people in this community who should be on Meals on Wheels and they’re not because there’s no room for them and that’s a tragedy,” said local program co-ordinator Gaby Hanzuk.

“That is absolutely a terrible, terrible thing.”

Fort Frances resident Kate Meadwell said she previously had wanted to use Meals on Wheels because arthritis in her hands makes meal preparation difficult. She is one of the lucky ones, though, with family support available to balance her otherwise healthy life.

“My daughter’s being very nice, she’s bringing meals over for me once in a while,” Meadwell noted.
“There are quite a few people I know that would like Meals on Wheels, but they can’t: there are no volunteers,” she stressed.

Meadwell has looked into assisted living facilities in Thunder Bay, which she said sounded wonderful, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave her family here in Fort Frances.

Hanzuk said for some people, getting help from their children simply is not an option—even if a son or daughter lives locally.

“I don’t care what anybody says, if your relationship with your parents was rocky, they are elderly and vulnerable, do you really want to put people in that situation?” she asked.

Hanzuk warned that creating that pressure between parents and children can lead to elder abuse, financial or otherwise.

“I know of people who do take advantage of that situation because they disliked their parents all their lives for one reason or another, and now all of a sudden, mom and dad have to depend on them,” she noted.

“And sometimes it’s not a good situation and I think that to keep elderly people not just happy, but safe and make them happy in their own home at the end of their life, they should have that choice.”

June Caul’s aunt, Bette Martinson, 90, made a difficult choice to move from here, where she’s lived since age 16, into assisted living in Winnipeg. She has family in her new city, but left behind a lifetime of friendships.

“I know she would have stayed here if there would have been something,” Caul said. “She talks about her friends. And my mom is her only sister living now and they’ll probably never, ever see one another again.

“That was hard for her and hard for us.”

“It’s hard to make good friends,” agreed Derendorf, who has seen many people move away from town for health reasons. “And I think the older we get, the harder it is to make those connections.

“So it’s a shame somebody would have to leave a place they’ve lived for the last 40, 50 years.”
The next step for the Assisted Living Action Group is to identify exactly what the public wants from such a facility, and to bring community groups together to make assisted living a reality.

“Hopefully, the community can come together to do something about that,” Armit said.

“It’s a challenge, actually,” he admitted. “All the organizations and the general public, what do they want?”

For his part, Riverside CEO Wayne Woods said he thinks current services could be integrated into a future plan.

“We’ve got the infrastructure and things to at least help the group,” he reasoned. “We’ve got a lot of resources we can rely on.

“We’re going to be in there and try and see what we can do to help out the group, push it along and see what happens.”

As for June Caul, her worries are shifting from just her mother’s well-being to include her own.

“Us baby-boomers are soon going to be ready to move into a place like that—a place where we need a little bit more assistance,” she noted.

“And what are we going to do?”

[Note: Mary Caul passed away Aug. 9, 2011, at the age of 88.]

Filed under: Fort Frances Times, News Articles

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I am a writer living under a pile of scrap paper and unopened fan mail from the cable company. I believe a messy desk is simply a sign of inspiration waiting to be uncovered. But I’m biased. More from me on Twitter: @zoeywrites

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