© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Bernie Wilson took time to grow into the Prince Edward Home in Charlottetown when he moved into the provincial manor nine years ago, leaving behind his apartment at the Kay Reynolds Centre.
“It took about six months to get to where I was comfortable with the building, comfortable with the people in it,’’ says Wilson, 49, who has cerebral palsy and needs a wheelchair to get around, which is something he does often, particularly around the sidewalks and streets of downtown Charlottetown.
However, much like a battered old pair of slippers that have become quite a familiar presence and feel, the 80-year-old building that first housed the Prince Edward Island Hospital is considered far too well worn today.
Ceilings leak. Paint peels off walls. The elevators seem to take turns going on the fritz.
A former nurse manager has described the structure as shabby, dilapidated and decrepit. Health Minister Doug Currie says he has long recognized the building “was old and tired and needed to be replaced.’’
So it was time to shut down the storied beast that has housed thousands of residents over the years that received professional, compassionate care in a largely ill-suited facility.
“I think it is safe to say that the staff have done a wonderful job for many years in a building that was never really designed for long-term care,’’ says Andrew MacDougall, administrator of a place commonly called simply PE Home.
Now, 120 residents are being readied to move into their new home on Nov. 3 along with a staff of about 225 also making the largely welcomed transfer.
MacDougall says the old building’s future is unknown, other than to continue to serve for the next several months as home to palliative care patients until the new provincial palliative care centre opens sometime in the fall.
Wilson got a sneak peek at his new home recently. What he saw has left him “dancing to get going’’ into the new $13 million Prince Edward Home (the name stays) — the fourth and largest of the five facilities to open in the province as part of government’s $51 million capital budget for manor replacement.
MacDougall describes the new facility, located on Maypoint Road on the outskirts of Charlottetown, as being tailor-made for a mix of residents that will include those with dementia, the long-term care population, and others coming for restorative care.
The place is an impressive fresh, shiny contrast to the dark, drab facility that fronts Brighton Road and backs onto Victoria Park. The public can form its own opinion during an open house Thursday, Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
MacDougall, though, says the facility was designed with much more than simply appearance in mind.
“Everyone wants to have a building that looks nice and pretty because that makes everybody feel good but obviously the motivation on this was much deeper than that,’’ he says.
This place, he stresses, is about efficiency and quality of service but even more importantly the new Prince Edward Home is geared towards providing a residence that maximizes comfort, dignity and privacy, as well as a sense of community.
The facility is divided into five “neighbourhoods’’ which each have a spacious spa with tub and shower room. Each neighbourhood contains two adjoining “households’’. There will be 12 residents per household, each with their own room that has their own bathroom.
Residents in each household share a sunroom, a large, open kitchen area, sitting lounge and living room/dining room.
“Having households that are clustered in smaller groups...allows a much higher degree of personalization that is possible in that type of environment versus otherwise,’’ says MacDougall.
“Just by definition having people get together in a smaller group, you develop a closer sense of community. Within a smaller group, you have a lot less external distractions and noises that can really serve to disturb people, can disrupt peoples’ sleep routines, that can make it difficult for people to relax.’’
Health Minister Currie says emphasis has been placed on creating “a more homelike atmosphere’’ and to meet the individual needs of residents.
The health minister adds that the five replacement manors are a significant component of the Provincial Healthy Aging Strategy that also includes “a robust home care program’’ aimed at allowing people to stay in their homes as long as possible.
With a rapidly aging population, including rising incidence of dementia, the province needs to be “very strategic’’ in planning to care for seniors and elderly.
“Our seniors are the ones who built our communities,’’ says Currie. “We have to be there for them.’’
Overall, MacDougall believes the new Prince Edward Home has achieved much more a sense of home than one of institution.
Effort was clearly made to give character and a personal feel to the place. The households, for instance, sport soothing names like Fox Meadow, Lighthouse Cove and Red Oak Heights.
Also, outside each resident’s room is a glass enclosure “memory box’’ designed for items like photos to be displayed to help capture the unique life of the resident.
Yet while the new facility is a monumental upgrade from the current, old manor, not all residents are eager for the move.
Wilson, who serves as a strong advocate for residents, says his fellow residents have mixed emotions about packing up and leaving for a new place.
“It goes from ‘I don’t want to go’ to ‘Oh, my God when are we leaving? I’m packing my stuff now.’ Somewhere in between is ‘I don’t care.’’’
MacDougall concedes the move will be difficult, even traumatic, for some residents.
“I would say unequivocally that the general sentiment is excited anticipation...but there certainly are some that are struggling with this (move) to varying degrees — some more so than others,’’ he says.
Renée Sampson, an LPN, can be counted among the group filled with excited anticipation. She has worked for the past nine years at Prince Edward Home in what most generously can be described as trying conditions.
“It definitely made staff more creative of how they were going to get their work done,’’ she says of the outdated facility.
“I know there were a lot of times where staff felt like ‘if we were only able to have this or this it would make things a lot easier — for the residents too, of course.’’
Sampson says the new Prince Edward Home will be a far more efficient place for staff and, more importantly, a more welcoming home for the residents.
She says getting around the building and getting outside the building into the courtyard will be such an easier exercise for residents. She can’t wait to see residents while sitting down in their wheelchair able to see outside the window — something that is not possible at the current home.
“Oh, I’m looking forward to many things,’’ says Sampson.
“One of the things that I’m looking forward to is that the staff is going to be able to continue to provide quality of care that they provide at the old PE Home but at a whole new level. There’s so many positives that are in this building. I don’t even know where to start.’’