Couple enjoying assisted living home in Ottawa

Sarah Pruys

Last summer, lifelong residents Harold and Irene Herrem wanted to stay in Fort Frances but instead had to move to Ottawa.
After enjoying living in the Riverwalk Condominiums here for the previous eight years, the couple found that being in their 90s made it difficult to do everything they had been able to do for themselves 20 years ago.
They wanted to move into an assisted living complex, but since nothing like this was available in town, they opted to move to Ottawa where their daughter lived.
Betty McLeod, their former neighbour at Riverwalk, keeps in contact with them via e-mail and was able to provide an update.
“They lived in town all their life,” she noted. “He had a business here; I believe he made furniture.
“When they moved in [to the Riverwalk condos], they said ‘it would really be nice if they would build the next building, which would be an assisted living place, because we see that we’re going to need to be eventually living in an assisted living place.’
“Now, of course, that hasn’t happened yet,” McLeod added.
“They could no longer manage here on their own,” she said. “They were ready to go to Rainycrest [Long-Term Care] . . . but they didn’t qualify.”
So instead, they packed up last summer and moved to Ottawa.
In the past year, the couple has grown to love Amica—the building where they now live.
“They’re really enjoying it,” McLeod related. “They’re enjoying the fact that they don’t have to shop for groceries and cook their own meals.”
While they used to receive Meals on Wheels for supper in Fort Frances, the couple still had to make their own food during the day and on weekends.
Now, they have more time to spend with their new friends, including a few who also used to live in Fort Frances.
Irene Herrem often plays bridge avidly while Harold finds time to play the piano.
“It’s just a much easier social life for them,” McLeod said.
They no longer drive but if they have places that they have to be, then transportation is available.
“But they certainly miss Fort Frances,” McLeod stressed. “If they had a choice, they would have certainly stayed here.”
The couple has their own apartment at Amica, but there’s a common dining room.
“There’s a lot of entertainment and activities, which, of course, wasn’t available for them at the condo,” added McLeod.
“They are certainly happy with the services that they are getting now, but would have really enjoyed having an assisted living place in Fort Frances that was between an independent apartment and Rainycrest,” she noted.
“They just couldn’t get enough help here in town to make a go of it,” McLeod stressed. “They were both just finding it really challenging to try to look after themselves.”
Many seniors in town must decide between Rainycrest and living on their own, and often neither option is appealing or possible. And yet there are not enough services to help people stay in the middle step.
If they do not have family close by to rely on, then they may have to move—like the Herrems did—or choose an option they would prefer to avoid.
“There’s still that one more step where you can still pay for some of your services,” McLeod noted.
Many people need that middle step, where they can maintain more independence and have more privacy and space.
While the Herrems were not actively involved with the local Assisted Living Action Group (A.L.A.G.), the committee looking to bring assisted living accommodations to Fort Frances, they definitely saw the need for such a complex.
“They needed it too soon, we’re not at the stage yet,” McLeod explained.
“The committee was hardly active when they were still here.”
However, the committee has been working very hard to try and get something started over the past year.
“We are planning to identify a 20-year plan, so it is important that the 45- to 64-year-olds let us know their thoughts even though it is something they may not have thought about,” said A.L.A.G. chair Erma Armit.
“The years fly quickly by,” she warned. “Life circumstances can change very quickly.
“Perhaps a car accident or serious illness could happen.”
To assess public opinion, a survey currently is being circulated locally.
“The Survey Development Committee was primarily retired older adults who received tremendous input and support from a wide variety of community partners, many of whom provide service in or administer district programs for older adults,” Armit noted.
The survey aims to address what people want to see in the future regarding appropriate accommodations and services so that the transition to assisted living is simple and not stressful.