'I am stressed out': Toronto nursing home closures would be 'traumatic' and 'catastrophic' for families

Virginia Vidal visits her 88-year-old grandmother Armanda in a Toronto nursing home two to three times a week and wishes she could go more often.

“I love my grannie. She raised me,” Vidal, 46, told CBC News.

The visits aren’t only nice for her grandmother who lives at Castleview Wychwood Towers. Vidal said she also gets a lot out of them.

“Whenever I feel like life is overwhelming that’s where I go. It feels right. It feels peaceful,” said Vidal, who owns a business, has 10-year-old triplets and three older children in their 20s.

“Something about it brings you back to your childhood. The stress of life goes away,” said Vidal. “I am the little girl again — the granddaughter for that hour that I’m with her.”

But that peace could come to an end for her and other families with loved ones in long-term care. Castleview Wychwood Towers is among 20 long-term care homes in Toronto that need rebuilding to meet Ontario’s new design guidelines. This week CBC News reported that six of them are “at risk” of leaving the city and eight are “intending to leave,” according to the Local Health Integration Network.

The regional administration agency under Ontario’s health ministry won’t disclose which homes are considering leaving the city.

If Castleview Wychwood Towers is one of them, Vidal said it would cause “panic” and “a tremendous amount of stress.”

If the home actually closed Vidal said it would have a horrible effect on her family and her grandmother’s well-being.

“This would be traumatic for her and for myself,” said Vidal, who drives about an hour in traffic to visit. It is challenging for families to find homes that are a good match for their loved one, particularly when the relative’s first language isn’t English, she said.

Armanda Vidal

Armanda Vidal found a comfortable home at Toronto’s Castleview Wychwood Towers, where she can speak her native Portuguese with staff and other residents. (Virginia Vidal)

Closures would cause ‘heartbreak’ and stress

Her grandmother speaks Portuguese and Castleview has a wing with staff and fellow residents who speak the language. They enjoy Portuguese movies and music and Vidal said her grandmother is comfortable and feels part of a community. The home also has many Japanese and Korean residents.

“It would cause a lot of heartbreak. It’s going to be very stressful for a lot of people,” Vidal said, of the prospect of losing the home, which has 456 residents.

She can breathe easy, however, a spokesperson for the City of Toronto told CBC News that none of the city-owned homes plan to relocate.

Industry officials say the 14 long-term care operators that are considering leaving are doing so because of the costs of meeting the new provincial standards. Operators are required to eliminate any four-bed wards they have, and other design requirements mean more space is needed.

They say finding land to expand their capacity, the cost of land and high development fees are among the challenges facing the homes, which are a mix of non-profit, for-profit and city-owned properties.

They are getting government subsidies to help with their redevelopment, but there are calls for that help to increase.

Armanda Vidal

Armanda Vidal with three of her great-grandchildren who visit her regularly at her Toronto long-term care home. (Virginia Vidal)

Denise Schon’s mother is a resident at Lakeside Long-Term Care Centre near Toronto’s waterfront. It’s not on the list of 20 homes but Schon said it’s crucial for all homes to stay where they are.

“The downtown location is important,” said Schon, who can ride her bike to visit her mother. “It’s an important part of my life to have it stay there.”

The home is also working well for her 91-year-old mother Barbara who moved there in 2016.

“She’s got friends there, she likes it, she’s in a routine, she’s comfortable and it’s now her world,” said Schon, who is chair of the home’s family council.

If her mother had to move it would be “very, very difficult.”

“It would be very disruptive and my guess is she would have a major setback,” said Schon, whose mother has dementia.

Rebuilding a costly and daunting challenge

Gerda Kaegi, a board member of an advocacy group called Concerned Friends of Ontario Citizens in Care Facilities, said she’s hopeful the warnings about potential closures turn out to be empty threats. There is a great need for the long-term care beds in the city, and it’s important family members be able to visit, she said.

“It is catastrophic if they close,” she said. “It would be terrible.”

But 85-year-old Kaegi — an advocate for seniors issues and a former professor at Ryerson University where she was a founding member of the school’s seniors studies program — believes “something will be worked out.”

Suomi-Koti

Suomi-Koti, a facility with long-term care beds and independent living for seniors, says it could cost over $ 20 million to upgrade its Toronto facility to meet new standards. (Suomi-Koti)

She said the City of Toronto has land holdings where long-term care homes could be built and despite the challenges home operators are facing with costs of meeting the province’s standards, “It can be done, no question.”

Juha Mynttinen is the administrator of Suomi-Koti nursing home, another on the list of 20 that must rebuild, and he said the required modifications will cost $ 20-$ 30 million.

That’s a challenge for the non-profit home for people of Finnish descent, Mynttinen said.

“We are going to find some way of doing it … we have to find a way,” he said.

If any home in Toronto’s core closed and residents were displaced farther away from their loved ones, it would be hard for them and their families, he said.

“It can have an effect on their health,” Mynttinen said. “Most people want to see their family as often as possible, especially in their sunset years.”

There are 34 long-term care beds and 100 spots in the independent living quarters at Suomi-Koti and the demand is high, Mynttinen said.

“I have a long, long waiting list.”

He said he’s committed to keeping the doors open, but that finding the money and the space to expand given that there is little of it around the existing building, is a daunting challenge.

“I am stressed out,” he said. 

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