Assisted living focus of action group

Duane Hicks

Assisted living is defined as an alternative means of care for seniors for whom independent living no longer is appropriate but who do not need the 24-hour medical care provided by a nursing home.
With the population of Fort Frances and the surrounding district growing older, a group of local residents is hoping to some day make assisted living a viable option for those who aren’t quite ready to go to Rainycrest.
The local Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (SALT) coalition feels there is a definite need for assisted living here, and a sub-committee called the The Assisted Living Action Group, who most recently met Monday, is taking a closer look at the issue.
“The goal of the group is to work towards some form of assisted living,” explained Becky Holden, a health promoter with the Northwestern Health Unit here.
“There’s definitely a demonstrated need and they feel it needs to be on the agenda in the community.
“We’re at a stage where we’re gathering more information so that we can come at it using a strategic method,” she added.
Group spokesperson Bob Armit said he’s aware of four people from Fort Frances, including his wife’s aunt, living in Thunder Bay at an assisted living complex, and knows of other people who live in Rainy River District who are looking at moving away because no assisted living is provided here.
Armit said the population is getting older here, noting “baby-boomers” are starting to turn 65 and an estimated one-third of residents already are seniors.
The main problem lies with the fact some of these people’s families aren’t living here anymore and can’t care for their aging parents.
“We’re going to see more and more and more of that as time goes on,” Armit warned.
To go along with this, some senior couples age together, with one of the pair taking on the role of caregiver. But what happens when the one spouse who is the caregiver passes away?
“How can we make it so they can enjoy their lives and get into something where they take care of themselves, but have help when they need it?” asked Armit.
“The kids can live outside of town knowing their parent is being taken care of and not worry about them.”
Armit said assisted living can amount to varying levels of care—even if it’s as simple yet important as having someone check up on a senior to make sure they’re taking their medications every day.
“It’s just keeping tabs on what they’re doing,” he remarked.
Group member Robert Schulz said right now, without assisted living, if you have a family member who cannot look his or herself, the only option is Rainycrest.
But he admitted that for most people, that topic is “off limits” and they don’t even want to consider going there—even if it’s where they ought to go.
“Assisted living is a pill that’s a lot easier to swallow,” reasoned Schulz, admitting he personally has learned Rainycrest “is a great place” since his own mother has gone there.
The action group has no illusions an assisted living project here will happen overnight, but they have started to ask plenty of questions they would like answers to, such as:
•where assisted living units could be built and who would pay for them (and whether that would involve community fundraising);
•whether they could be incorporated into existing seniors’ residences (even as a short-term measure);
•where else have assisted living programs been implemented and how did they do it;
•how many seniors live in Rainy River District and how much is that segment of the population projected to grow; and
•how does town council feel about assisted living, and how can the group get them to rally behind their cause?
Ideally, Armit said it’s possible multiple assisted living housing complexes could be—or may need to be—built, not only creating jobs but potentially attracting residents from all over the district to move to Fort Frances.
“We’ve kicked some ideas around,” he noted. “I hope some can be brought to fruition—the thing is to get something now but also look to the future.”
The action group is looking for more members, both to get more ideas and to strengthen its voice.
“What we want to be able to do is voice our opinion about it so that the government knows what we have—that can be the town, the MPP, MP, whatever,” Armit said.
“It’s time to get everybody on board,” he stressed.
Armit agreed with something that someone said at Monday’s meeting, paraphrasing: “Maybe none of the action group members will be around when an assisted living complex is built here. But if it’s going to be built in the next 10 years, somebody’s gotta start it.
“Why not us?”
Anyone is welcome to attend a meeting of the Assisted Living Action Group and get involved. Their next meeting is slated for Monday, Jan. 24 at 10 a.m. at the Super 8.
This invitation is open to residents, as well as representatives of organizations with an interest in assisted living.
Those wanting more information prior to the meeting can call Holden at 274-9827.
Started this past summer, SALT is a program to mobilize seniors to become involved with local police and other service agencies that focus on seniors’ needs in their community.