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99 year old facing eviction gets reprieve
MLA concerned lack of beds for seniors with dementia just 'the tip of the iceberg'

Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Updated: Friday, May 22, 2015

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
Albert Bohnet, a 99-year-old senior who was told he had to vacate his room at Avens Community for Seniors by Monday to make room for someone else, can now stay until the end of June.

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Jeff Renaud, chief executive officer for Avens Community for Seniors, stands behind Albert Bohnet on his 99th birthday. Bohnet who has been staying at the home temporarily as part of the respite program was to be evicted but has recently been granted an extension. "We worked some miracles and so Albert can stay until the end of June," Renaud said. "But that means somebody else won't be getting a long-term care bed." - Evan Kiyoshi French/ NNSL photo

Jeff Renaud, chief executive officer for the Avens Community for Seniors, said a last-minute decision was made to allow the man currently in temporary respite care to stay.

"We worked some miracles and so Albert can stay until the end of June," he said. "But that means somebody else won't be getting a long-term care bed."

Bohnet has been staying at Avens in the dementia ward, occupying one of four "respite" beds - beds set aside to give a reprieve to the families and caregivers looking after seniors in their homes.

Bohnet has learned he's on a waiting list for a permanent bed - a list of between 20 and 40 names, according to Avens chief executive officer Jeff Renaud - but he doesn't know how high or low his name falls on the list, according to his son Darryl Bohnet. Albert was to move to Behchoko on Monday - five days after his 99th birthday - to stay with another son, Gordon Bohnet, because Darryl's home in Yellowknife has too many staircases and doesn't have bathing facilities suitable to his father's needs.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley says it's unacceptable to expect Bohnet to leave the seniors home at his age, adding Bohnet is just one of many on a growing waiting list of people hoping to be placed at the care facility from around the territory.

"At the age of 99 it's ridiculous that we cannot provide him comfort in his last years," said Bromley. "But this is certainly the tip of the iceberg ... We know our seniors population is growing by six or seven per cent per year. It's not surprising that we're following this situation and that these are becoming the tragic consequences now for individual families."

Bromley said the growing waiting list has been discussed in government for many years but Avens has been unable to secure a financial commitment from cabinet that would allow the facility to expand.

Avens recently slammed the brakes on the $28-million expansion plan after a private partner pulled out from funding the project. The expansion would have added 31 beds to the 57-bed facility. Avens was last expanded in 2010 with the opening of the $15.45-million dementia centre and its 28 beds. Mary Murphy House, the other seniors home in Yellowknife, has 16 beds where the waiting list is typically very long.

Bromley said the GNWT's reluctance to fund an expansion is because it has a preoccupation with the territory's infrastructure deficit and hopes to play catchup now that its borrowing capacity has been increased.

"It comes down to making choices to, in my mind, support big industry rather than meeting the needs of the people on the ground," he said. "This is exactly why people are leaving the Northwest Territories."

According to Merlyn Williams, president of the Yellowknife Seniors' Society, the problem began when Avens - built under the leadership of the Yellowknife Association for Concerned Citizens and Seniors (YACCS) as a city-specific assisted living centre - was assumed by the territorial government and re-branded.

"Now the territorial government considers that Avens centre regional," he said. "So people from Norman Wells or Fort Smith can go there but they haven't got enough bloody facilities to accommodate those people."

Williams said he feels the waiting list is much larger than what is being projected.

"They're coming from all over," he said. "If that's the case the government has to spend some more money and make that place bigger. It's scandalous ... Don't mess around with it. It's a need. Come on guys, fork out the cash and do it."

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro said the problem is growing as more seniors move to the city where there are more services available to care for them. She said MLAs have been pushing the matter of expansion at Avens but have hit road blocks.

"I'm really disappointed by the lack of action on the part of the government, particularly the Department of Health and Social Services," she said. "They have been in conversation with Avens, with the board and the CEO probably for over a year now. But the government is not willing to make a financial commitment that would allow Avens to proceed with the project."

She said the expansion project fell flat because Avens couldn't get financing from the GNWT that would have helped it get a mortgage.

Renaud said the fact that he is having to turn residents away from the home speaks volumes to the problem.

"I understand that we're in fiscal constraint but we're going to face a crisis," he said.

Debbie DeLancey, deputy minister for Health and Social Services, said the GNWT has made substantial investments into getting more seniors beds across the territory. She said the information she has been provided shows there are 21 people waiting for long-term care across the territory.

She said the territory hired a consulting firm to carry out a continuing-care review to figure out what the territory needs.

"According to their projections - and you can't have complete and current accuracy - they felt there were enough beds ... to get us through to 2016," she said. "We gave funding to Avens to bring in their own consultant. Now they're predicting a shortage of beds slightly sooner than we were."

DeLancey said the government didn't have the money in pocket to lend financial support to Avens expansion.

"Given the government's constrained financial situation it's difficult for us to be in a situation to make financial commitments," she said.

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