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Opinion: Rebuild of Extendicare Kingston can be part of Ontario solution to modernize long-term care

Extendicare Kingston, a local long-term care home on Queen Mary Road is seeking provincial government approval on a redevelopment plan that they hope will modernize the home and provide updated care to seniors in the Kingston area. Photo by Cris Vilela.

The following is a submitted Op/Ed article. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Kingstonist.

As Ontario confronts a second wave of COVID-19, Extendicare Kingston is well prepared to meet the difficult challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.

All of us who consider seniors care a calling feel a deep sense of pride that we’ve been able to keep such an aggressive and dangerous virus out of our home since the global pandemic first made its way to Canada last winter.

The tragic reality is that this virus leaves seniors and people with serious health conditions, such as the men and women who reside at Extendicare Kingston, particularly vulnerable. But with a great deal of collective hard work, commitment and sacrifice – from staff, residents and their family members — we’ve so far managed to keep the virus at bay and protect everyone who lives and works at our home.

The challenge of shutting COVID-19 out of our home has been compounded over the past several months by the physical limitations of an aging building that we are hoping to soon replace with a state-of-the-art, modern home.

Extendicare Kingston was developed nearly 50 years ago when it was common for the long-term care sector to build shared rooms — sometimes called ward rooms – to house up to four residents.

Our home was designed to house 150 residents in a mix of accommodations. We have 13 private rooms, 35 semi-private rooms shared by two residents, and 17 ward rooms shared by four residents.

Across our sector, we have seen that older long-term care homes with multiple four-bed shared rooms have been hit particularly hard by the virus, in large part because it can be more difficult to maintain effective physical distancing and to isolate residents who test positive for COVID-19. Because of this, we are no longer admitting more than two residents to a room.

Fortunately, the increased infection control measures and safety practices we have enacted at Extendicare Kingston have protected our residents and staff from COVID-19, but our aging building makes the task far more complicated.

We are hopeful that the provincial government will soon approve our redevelopment application to replace our current home with a new one on a different site with increased capacity and no shared bedrooms.

Our plan is to build a new home to accommodate 192 residents – an increase in capacity of 42 – who will each have their own private bedroom.

Not only would this new design offer increased infection control against outbreaks of COVID-19 and other common infectious diseases such as influenza, but also it would allow us to greatly enhance privacy and quality of life for residents and their family members.

In addition, increasing our capacity would help reduce long-term care wait lists and ease bed pressures on hospitals in the Kingston area caring for individuals waiting for room in a home like ours.

While the pandemic has underscored the importance of modernizing long-term care homes in Ontario, Extendicare initially submitted its application to redevelop our Kingston home in 2015 – long before anyone had heard of COVID-19.

The Provincial Government committed to creating 15,000 new long-term care beds and redeveloping 15,000 existing, older beds to phase-out ward rooms and bring in modern design standards. To that end, they recently announced a program to build 8,000 new beds and 12,000 replacement beds. We believe our project can be part of the solution to help the Province quickly reach its goal.

We have broad support for the project from residents of our current home and their family members, as well as stakeholders in the community, including Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson and Ian Arthur, MPP for Kingston and the Islands.

We have the redevelopment plan. We have the property. We have a track record of expertise. We have support from the community. What we need now is approval from the Province to move forward.

We are ready to break ground as soon as we get approval to proceed and expect to be in a position to open our doors approximately two years later.

As we’ve shown by protecting our residents and staff throughout the pandemic, we have incredible care standards at our home. We will strive to continue to keep them safe throughout the second wave and when other challenges come our way.

But we know we could do even more for them with a modern building. Our residents deserve it.

Tawnia Pilgrim is a senior nursing leader with over twenty years of nursing experience in a variety of positions within home health care and long term care. She is the Administrator of Extendicare Kingston, a 150 bed Long Term Care home.

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