Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Aging in Place, Long Term Care, and a Travesty in Fort McMurray

Late last night, after the Intrepid Junior Blogger was safely in bed, I picked up my laptop to check my messages. It had been an unusual evening, as somehow the IJB and I had begun watching a show about history, and a tale about a young man orphaned at a young age. The IJB, while watching, had fixed me with a stare and informed me that I should plan on living forever, as she had no intention of ever letting me go. And in those eyes, sometimes green and sometimes hazel, I saw a realization that our time on this planet is finite, and that some day she would indeed say a final farewell to me. It was a moment that brought me to tears, but it left me thinking about the future, too, as she grows older and so will I. It made me think about where my future might take me, and where I might spend my remaining years on this earth when that time comes. And so it seemed fortuitous for me to find a story in the Edmonton Journal, but it was not a story that made me smile. Instead I viewed the story through tears - tears of sorrow, and rage.

There is a man in this community who has always been unfailingly kind to me, from the very beginning of this blog. I met him soon after I began writing it, introduced through a mutual friend, and his kindness has always been something I have treasured. We have often spoken about things I have written, or things he would like to see me write - and on occasion at events he has even commented on my shoes, appreciating my love of beautiful things. In the last year or so I was deeply troubled to learn he was facing a serious progressive illness, one he has faced with courage of the kind that humbles you. He is not only a kind man, but a community champion, and when someone refers to "pillars of the community" they mean people like this man, and his wife. This couple? Dave Kirschner and his wife Iris.

When I read the story in the link below I can't quite express how I felt. You see Dave and Iris have given their lives to this region. They have served in countless capacities, and done far more than anyone could be reasonably expected to do. They have made their home here, raised their children here, and have continued to live here, Dave serving as an RMWB councillor until his illness required a leave of absence, and Iris continuing to do her work improving life in this community. To learn that now, due to Dave's progressive illness and our lack of a continuing care facility, they will have to leave the community they love and have given so much to is beyond a tragedy. It's a travesty.

I am frankly outraged that our long term care and aging in place facility has taken this long. I have had high hopes along the way, each announcement that was made, and when the old buildings at Willow Square came down. I have been anxiously waiting for shovels to hit the ground, and construction to begin - but to no avail. Here we sit, still with no LTC and no Aging in Place, and seeing people like Dave, who have given so much and asked for nothing in return, being forced to leave because of an illness they did not choose and cannot control. Here we are, with people like Dave who have their friends and family right here being forced to leave to receive adequate care. Having to cope with his illness is hard enough for his family - but to have to cope with leaving the community you have loved and treasured, cared for and nurtured as it grew only to have it not be there when you need it? Just not acceptable.

I am past excuses. I blame no one level of government - I hold them all accountable, and all fingerpointing must stop if we are to see some progress. One level owns the land, one must pony up the cash, one must issue development permits - and ALL must immediately begin to work together to ensure that the LTC and Aging in Place facility is a reality, and soon. I will no longer be patient and accept explanations. I have arrived at "Just get it done and cut out the bullshit".

Let's be honest - the people who need the aging in place facility are not new to Fort McMurray. People aren't moving here to retire, folks. The ones who need this facility are the long-time residents who built this community, who gave selflessly, who poured their heart and soul into it, and who love this place and choose to stay even when they could move on in their golden years. All they want is a place to spend those remaining years in the community they have contributed to, nurtured, and called home. Does it not seem reprehensible that we do not have the facilities in place to honour these people who have continued to call this place home even long after they could have left? Does it not seem absurd that in a region this size we have no facility for them? Isn't enough enough, already?

The story from the Edmonton Journal was the last straw for me. This camel's back has broken, and as I sit to write this today I find my eyes welling with tears. I think back to the discussion with my daughter and the fragile look in her eyes as she thought about a future where I will age, and, one day, die. I thought about how I want to reassure her that I will be okay, and how there will be a place for me in the community I have chosen to call home when that time should come - but I can't, because on this day, in 2013 after far too many years of lack of progress, I do not have that assurance to give. I fear what is happening to Dave and Iris could and will happen to others - like you, and me. This is my clarion call to action. It is time for us to take on EVERY level of government and demand they work together to make this happen. It is time to make this a municipal election issue. And I hope it is not too late, because one day I would like to be there to welcome Dave home to Fort McMurray, where he can spend his time on this planet in comfort, receiving the care he needs, and surrounded by those who respect - and love - him. I think he deserves at least that much, don't you?


  1. My heart is broken for Iris and Dave. Our daughters played soccer together, and like Iris and Dave, my husband and I had considered strongly about retiring here, since we have been here 30 years and yes, have been a part of the city's growth and yes, this is our home. One of our daughters has recently purchased a house is starting her life here. We stayed when others left, when the town felt like a ghost town when the oil market dropped, we were working, raising our family and building a life. I am, we are not thrilled about the idea of having to move to be close to health care, however, this is a real possibility for us. The discussion for us has begun. It may be now, only a matter of time. Thank you for sharing this. It is a shame on our community. A huge loss for us.

  2. Pat Palechuk& Wil ChabaWednesday, September 04, 2013

    Well said. The three levels of government are all to blame. They stand by as the people leave, or those not so fortunate, die.

  3. I feel for Iris and Dave. Fort Murray should start thinking about long term and expansion. People who reach retirement age these days aren't just after a comfortable community to live in where they can still practice their independence, socialize and build new relationships. If they really care about the people living in their community, they would think about putting up a continuing care. Life expectancy is becoming longer these days and therefore they should provide everyone in their community with variety of long term care options. It's hard to move to another community just to receive proper care and I hope the people behind Fort McMurray will realize this. I hope this musing can trigger something positive and the said community will start expanding the services they provide for the benefit of people who is in dire need of support and extended care. Great job for posting this and airing out your sentiments. A continuing community is really needed and I hope this will come into fruition.