This week, West Vancouver’s Diane Montgomery and her siblings are helping their 92-year-old dad settle in to a new home on the North Shore.
Montgomery’s father is one of 60 elderly residents of West Vancouver Care Centre who are moving to a brand new seniors home on Oxford Street in North Vancouver.
While the 75-bed West Vancouver Care Centre is closing, the new Creekstone facility, run by the company Trellis, will offer 150 publicly funded long-term care beds along with 30 privately paid beds at its new seniors home.
Her dad will be further down the highway when she wants to visit, and farther from his old neighbourhood near 31st Street in West Vancouver. But for Montgomery, the move is a welcome one and long overdue.
In the new care home, there’s lots of light, said Montgomery, and a view of the mountains. Each resident will have a private room and bathroom and will be part of a smaller “neighbourhood” unit on their floor.
On the whole, it feels more like a home and less like a hospital, said Montgomery.
Her dad, who suffers from dementia, may not fully appreciate the move but, “It’s just nice to think of him in a nicer place,” she said.
The vast majority of West Vancouver Care Centre residents are moving to Creekstone. Many of the staff are also going to work at the new seniors home.
Her dad is one of the lucky ones.
But for elderly West Vancouver residents in need of care in the future, the scenario is much more worrying.
Second West Van care home has announced closure
Corporate owners of a second West Vancouver seniors home, Capilano Care Centre, announced last month that it will also be closing in a year, leaving a net loss of about 130 publicly funded long-term care beds on the North Shore at a time when needs are growing.
The situation is especially dire in West Vancouver, where the proportion of people over 65 – at about 28 per cent - is far higher than in most other Lower Mainland communities and the number of people over 85 – the average age at which people enter care homes - is growing.
“We know our demographic is aging,” said West Vancouver Mayor Mary-Ann Booth. “Clearly the demand is not going down.”
Currently about a third of the long-term care facilities in the province are run directly by health authorities, a third are run by non-profit groups and a third are run by private corporations.
Seniors homes range from independent living facilities for those needing little assistance, through assisted living for seniors requiring some help to long-term care. Of those, only long-term care facilities offer full support, including nursing care, for the frailest seniors, including many with dementia. Some facilities also offer privately-paid care beds, rates for which vary but can run upwards of $10,000 a month, depending on the facility.
But the number of subsidized long-term care beds funded by the province are much more limited.
Aging long-term care homes designed for different population
Many of the older care homes were built in a different era, when the residents had less complex needs, said Jennifer Baumbusch, a professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia.
Before COVID highlighted those problems, including the difficulty of infection control in shared rooms, Vancouver Coastal Health identified aging care home buildings that no longer met standards, said Keith McBain, executive director of long-term care and seniors for Vancouver Coastal Health.
West Vancouver Care Centre, built in the 1950s, was the top priority for closure.
In 2015, the health authority put out a request for proposals for a new seniors home that would replace the 75 beds at that care home and add additional beds on the North Shore – a contract eventually awarded to Trellis.
The West Vancouver family who owned the West Vancouver Care Centre opted not to put in a proposal. Instead, in April 2018 they sold the care home and large parcel of land it sits on to Mayfair Properties for $32 million. Mayfair, a real estate holding company, then contracted with Optima – a company that operates seniors’ homes - to run the facility.
Families with loved ones at West Vancouver Care Centre have known for some time that the care home would be closing.
Then last month Revera, the company that owns Capilano Care Centre, announced it would also be closing in a year, with no intentions of building a new seniors home on the North Shore.
Closure notice came as a blow to workers
The decision to close was made because “the building is aging and its outdated design, including ward-style rooms, does not meet evolving resident expectations nor the modern standards required to support increasingly complex care,” according to a statement from Revera. “Capilano is simply too old to attempt to renovate . . . and finding suitable land within a reasonable distance has proven unsuccessful,” according to the company.
For staff who work at the care home, the news came as a blow, said Heather Fowler, a recreation aide who works at the care centre.
At the staff meeting where the news was broken, “We were in tears,” she said. Some staff members have worked at the care home for their whole careers, she said.
The news came at a time when staff and residents were still reeling from a COVID-19 outbreak in November and December which resulted 142 residents and staff becoming ill and the deaths of 26 residents.
“That was tough enough for them, let alone hearing this news a couple of months later,” she said. “The timing is not very considerate.”
While the care centre has 205 publicly funded beds, no new residents have moved into the facility since the outbreak in the fall, leaving about 152 residents who will have to move to other care homes. Residents are being given first priority at both Creekstone and other care homes with vacancies, said McBain.
“Families that I’m speaking with are quite stressed,” said Fowler.
The closure of two West Vancouver seniors care homes within a year while only one has been built to replace them means “we will still have a shortfall,” McBain acknowledged.
Closures will leave bed shortfall
According to Vancouver Coastal Health, there are currently 1,199 provincially-funded beds on the North Shore as a whole, most of those in North Vancouver. There will be 1,069 funded beds when Capilano Care Centre and West Vancouver Care Centre close.
Vancouver Coastal Health is currently looking at options to address the shortfall, said McBain.
“We’re really behind the eight-ball in terms of building new sites. We’ve known all along there’s an aging population,” said Baumbusch.
She describes that as a missed opportunity by past governments. “It ought to have happened ten years ago.”
Booth said the idea that most people in West Vancouver are wealthy and can all afford to pay for private care as they age isn’t true.
“We can’t afford to lose beds,” she said.
“This is a crisis, closing down that facility. We don’t want to force people out of the community. It’s not just buildings, it’s people.”
The move leaves Inglewood Care Centre, owned and run by the Baptist Housing Society, as West Vancouver’s only remaining long-term care centre funded by the province, with 230 beds.
Baptist Housing will apply to redevelop Inglewood as larger 'campus of care'
Baptist Housing currently has a proposal to rebuild those long term care beds as well as adding privately paid beds, plus privately paid assisted and independent living units and other affordable housing options for seniors and staff, over a five-year period.
The non-profit has received financial backing from BC Housing, which provided it with $114 million to buy the 57-year-old building as well as three adjacent lots on the northwest corner of Taylor Way and Inglewood Drive.
A formal application is expected very soon, said Deanna Bogart, vice-president of communications for Baptist Housing.
“I think they’ve been quite responsive,” to community feedback so far, said Booth, adding she hopes the plan will be well received by neighbours.
“The community has to recognize that these new facilities come with a price. And that price is more density. It might be more bulk than they're used to in their neighborhoods, because of our land values. And so we all have to give a little, because no one wants to have to drive to North Van or Burnaby, to visit their parents.”