Council wants a say in the expansion of long term care services in Smithers. Pictured here is the Bulkley Lodge facility in that community. (Google photo)

Plans to expand long term care in Houston

Houston shouldn’t feel neglected because there are plans to expand long term care and other care services for seniors in Smithers, says a senior Northern Health Authority official whose responsibility takes in the various levels of care for senior citizens.

Speaking last week, Aaron Bond acknowledged there have been consistent calls from the community to expand services here, but that a decision to begin planning for more beds and services in Smithers as well as Hazelton, Prince George, Quesnel and Fort St. John follow projections done as to growth and need.

Those care options include more assisted living, level below long term care, and dementia care.

“We took into account the modeling, the infrastructure and took those factors together and those were the five identified communities,” said Bond. “But this doesn’t negate Houston at all. I can tell you it is our intention to carry on with additional communities. We won’t be stopping.”

But when that might be and how Houston itself might benefit can’t yet be determined, Bond added.

“Long term care is a very important part of the continuum of care in every community,” he said in adding that stay-at-home options also play a role in services to seniors.

Houston now has four long term care beds at the Houston Health Centre plus two beds offering respite or temporary care as well as six assisted living units provided by Northern Health under a contract with the Smithers Community Services Association at Cottonwood Manor. Cottonwood Manor has an additional 16 independent living units managed through BC Housing, the provincial housing agency.

Council, for years now, has advocated for Cottonwood Manor to be converted into a long term care facility where services and care are offered around the clock.

The assisted living designation is a level below long term care and its care provisions do not extend into the evening and overnight hours, a deficiency Houston council has pointed out in lobbying efforts with the provincial government.

Bond said an advisory committee will eventually be formed as plans advance in Smithers and anticipates it could include a representative from Houston.

How Houston can have its interests represented as part of the Smithers planning for a long term care expansion there has already been raised by the District of Houston council.

The provincial health ministry does have a policy whereby people can list in what long term care facility they wish to live and that policy applies to Houston residents who want to live in Smithers. People are placed on a wait list and facilities are generally assigned by the length of time on a wait list and the specific care needs they have.

“For lots of people they want to stay either at home or close to home, to their family and there is the opportunity to do that,” said Bond.

Bond said the business plans for both Smithers and Hazelton should be finished later this year.

A business plan is but one step toward eventual development of services and should not be considered a guarantee construction will take place as financing commitments would first be required from the provincial government and from the North West Regional Hospital District which levies property taxes.

The regional hospital district is paying for both the Smithers and Hazelton business plans, a cost pegged at $1.5 million and for which it will eventually be reimbursed.

Bulkley Lodge in Smithers has room for 70 residents with two units set aside for those with dementia. There are also three double occupancy rooms, something that is no longer the standard in new residences.

Bond said it is still too early to indicate how many more beds might be proposed in Smithers.

Wrinch Memorial Hospital is the home of long term care in the Hazeltons. It has 10 beds, all in double occupancy rooms and one is set aside for respite care.