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Niverville finds creative solutions

Privately built care facility caters to aging population

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Gordon Daman, voluntary president of the new Heritage Life Personal Care Home in Niverville, oversees last-minute construction before its opening later this month.

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Gordon Daman, voluntary president of the new Heritage Life Personal Care Home in Niverville, oversees last-minute construction before its opening later this month.

NIVERVILLE -- It was a catch-22 for an aging demographic.

Niverville couldn't obtain a government personal care home because it didn't have enough people 75 years and older.

But the reason Niverville didn't have enough people 75 and older was it didn't have a personal care home. People were moving out as they approached their golden years.

So the town -- it is still the fastest-growing in Manitoba, and has been for almost two decades -- made some tricky manoeuvres. First, it bought the aging St. Adolphe Personal Care Home and obtained a PCH licence. Then it lobbied the province. Then it built its own $13.8- million, 80-bed Heritage Life Personal Care Home.

It's more than just a state-of-the-art PCH. It includes the first special-care unit in Canada built specifically for aggressive and overactive Alzheimer's and dementia patients. The special, 20-bed unit will be available to patients in Winnipeg, as well as southeast and south-central Manitoba.

It's also the first community-built PCH in Manitoba. That is, it was built without a dime of government money.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Heritage Life, 40 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, is scheduled for Aug. 20.

"There is nothing in the province like this. This will exceed everything," said Gordon Daman, voluntary president of the Heritage Life Personal Care Home and vice-president of Niverville Heritage Holdings Inc., the non-profit board behind the facility's construction.

It's also the first community-built personal care home in Manitoba. That is, it was built without a dime of government money.

It is some facility. For example, the 20-bed unit on the second floor for aggressive and overactive dementia patients will be 7,000 sq. ft. larger than the three other 20-bed units on the main floor. "The best way to disperse energy is simply with more space," said Daman.

The special unit has two glassed in balconies that look out on the courtyard, and some rooms look onto Niverville's golf course. But the windows are all bulletproof. Aggressive dementia patients have a tendency to pick up things and try to throw them through windows. Even toilet lids are bolted down. They tend to get hurled at others patients. The special unit will also have 21/2 times the regular staffing.

About 80 per cent of PCH patients have some form of Alzheimer's or dementia, and a small percentage develop aggressive behaviour that's either temporary or permanent, said Daman. They often end up drugged in hospitals where it costs $700 per person per day, or else they are sent to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre at $1,200 per day, he said. The cost at the Niverville home will be $300-325.

There are many controls. For example, hallway floors are a creamy white colour but with brown borders around the doors of some residences and service rooms. To an Alzheimer's patient, the brown borders look like ditches and they will be reluctant to cross them. That's to discourage wanderers. Niverville officials learned the technique touring care home facilities in Texas.

Some other highlights at Heritage Life include:

-- Nurses will keep all records on individual tablet computers. It's a pilot project with the province that is expected to reduce nurse charting time from 50 per cent of a nurse's shift, the current average, down to 25 per cent.

-- There will be four units with two bedrooms for couples but they have to sleep separately. If they can sleep together, they have to be in an assisted living residence.

-- Heritage Life will surpass many of Manitoba Health's 26 standards for a new PCH. For example, new PCHs must have ceiling lifts, instead of floor lifts, in 25 per cent of rooms, for things like moving patients from bed to bathroom. Niverville will have ceiling lifts in 50 per cent of its rooms, and they can carry up to 1,000 pounds.

-- It's all computerized and tracked so the computer even knows how many times a person used the washroom, if that should be an issue.

-- Baths have ultrasound vibration systems that stimulates blood-cell movement and helps remove dead skin cells.

-- The bathing rooms also have ceiling lifts that will lift patients right into the tub without their having to lie down, and can even move them from the tub right to a toilet, if necessary.

-- For rummagers, another trait of some Alzheimer's patients, there is a magnetic locking system of cupboards that a nurse only needs a magnet to open (the magnet lifts the metal latch through the door). "It's a simple $5 solution," said Daman.

-- The PCH is connected to the town's Heritage Centre, which has medical services and a daycare, as well as to seniors housing and assisted living quarters, to form one giant campus-like setting.

Heritage Life was built at a cost of $150,000 per bed. The average cost for Manitoba Health-built PCHs is $400,000.

How did they do it? First, the community raised $1.2 million from residents who basically donated funds in return for modest interest rate returns. That was to buy the St. Adolphe PCH.

Then it raised another $525,000 to leverage a loan. Eighty people in Niverville stepped up and donated $5,000 each to "buy" one of the 80 PCH rooms. A Niverville fundraiser brought in another $100,000.

Next, contractors, from plumbers to carpenters to electricians, agreed to drop their market rates by 25 per cent. That saved a whopping $3 million alone. People at the planning and executive level volunteered their services.

As a non-profit PCH, Heritage Life is not required to make a profit. The province will pay $3 million per year in operating grants to run the facility. About $700,000 per year of that total will pay off the facility's mortgage over 30 years.

The PCH fits with the town's economic development strategy to "hatch (be born), match (marry), detach (die)" in Niverville. "Some people think you only need housing for younger families but it really starts with seniors," said Daman.

Added Niverville Mayor Greg Fehr: "It is extremely critical to the long-term sustainability of a community to have that diversification of housing for all the different segments of life. Otherwise, what happens is at age 45 people starting looking down the road, thinking they have to move to Winnipeg."

There is already a waiting list for patients at Heritage Life. It will first accommodate the 42 people now in the St. Adolphe care home.

It also has a backlog of people wanting to work there.

That's in contrast to other facilities that are beating the bushes to find staff. Niverville's PCH will have 120 full- and part-time employees. New employees are already relocating from Winnipeg, swelling the town's population, which stands at about 4,700 people.

Heritage Life is serving as a model for other rural communities. Carman has already started working with Niverville to build a similar facility.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A11

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