The $3.75 million dining area expansion at The Pines in Burns Lake is expected to be complete in the coming months.
“The project includes a new dining hall, kitchen server and pantry, patient and staff washrooms and a new lobby and vestibule area, as well as a new covered loading area for deliveries and servicing,” Northern Health spokeswoman Eryn Collins told Lakes District News.
It has been planned for one year.
The expansion aims to enhance the experience of residents at The Pines, as Penny Anguish, Northern Health Chief Operating Officer explained.
“We haven’t had a robust [adult] day program in the past because we had to use part of the recreation area for dining. This expansion will allow us to move dining activities out of the recreation area. It will be safer because all the staff can be with the residents as opposed to the staff split up between the two areas. It’ll provide a better overall dining experience. Residents can all eat together. Dining won’t take place in the recreation area anymore.”
However, the project comes as some members of the community have questioned whether the funding could’ve been better spent on adding more rooms to The Pines, which is at full capacity.
“Long-term care is always at full capacity. They’ve got a certain number of rooms,” said Anguish.
As a result of the shortage of vacancies at The Pines, some people have had to stay longer in the hospital, where patients have been moved to the emergency room because all of its beds were occupied over the past few months.
“You would be hard pressed to find a hospital in Canada that didn’t have capacity issues over the last few months,” said Anguish.
“This year has been a harsh flu season. There was a surge of flu viruses, and there wasn’t a strong match between the immunizations and one particular strain of influenza. It affected people with already chronic diseases,” she explained.
“There’s no one in the emergency room now. They might’ve spent a day or two in there and as soon as a bed was available they were moved out of there.”
“It probably stood out as unusual in Burns Lake because it hasn’t happened much in the past. Prince George hospital was over capacity and some people from Burns Lake had to be brought back here. We needed everyone to be able to take care of people from their own communities.”
Some of the hospital capacity problems remain for the time being, partly because sending patients home or to The Pines can’t be easily accomplished.
“There are some people in the hospital in Burns Lake that are waiting for long-term care. They’ve being assessed and that’s the appropriate place for them to be. That’s not unusual. We try not to have that be a long wait and we try not to have that be a lot of people because that does cause some challenges with the bed capacity.
“There are some other people, what we call our complex discharges. It won’t be easy for them to just go home. If their home has stairs and they can’t go up the stairs anymore. Can that be modified in their home? Do they and their family have to look at other options? In small communities, accessible housing for seniors in particular is a challenge right across the north.”
Anguish said that building more rooms at The Pines won’t necessarily solve the problem.
“$3.75 million wouldn’t build a lot more long-term care bedrooms. If you’re increasing the capacity you would need more dining. You wouldn’t get away with building more rooms and not expanding the dining area…It’s more comprehensive than just sticking new rooms on. There has to be room for activities and dining. It’s not simple, straightforward or inexpensive.”
But the bigger issue, she pointed out, is that adding capacity to long-term care facilities is only part of the answer.
“The main reason we’re not doing it is it’s not the solution. People want to live in their homes independently as long as they can. One of the main reasons they can’t is the lack of accessible housing. And then healthcare needs to have the services to provide home support. We need more accessible housing for that demographic. And community health services, nursing and home support. Their own house has to be accessible and there has to be accessible housing that they can move into.”
Funds for the dining area expansion were provided by the Ministry of Health, the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District, and Northern Health.