I am writing about the aging in place, long term care, and continuing care debate in our community. And before anyone demands to see my credentials to even speak to this topic I would like to note that I am less than a decade away from being able to legitimately order from the seniors menu at most restaurants. I am less than two decades away from being formally considered a senior by most government programs and services, and frankly my poor soccer-damaged and early-arthritic knees tell me I might be there already. I saw two parents through their elderly years, both dying at 81, and both requiring different services and homes as they aged (my father, who died of lung cancer, was cared for at home by my family and visiting nurses until he spent his last few weeks in palliative care, while my mother used both a continuing care facility while she recovered from a massive stroke in her seventies, and spent her last years in an aging in place facility). Am I an "expert" in this situation? No, and I would suggest few of us discussing it are - but I do bring some life experience, and some knowledge of how I feel as I get older. I bring that with me to the dialogue today.
The debate currently raging is often being predicated with the words "just give the seniors what they want" - and I truly wish it were that simple. I want to be extremely clear here: I have tremendous respect for the seniors of this community, the founding fathers and mothers who built this place, contributed to it in ways we cannot imagine, and who now wish to spend the last years here. My opinion has nothing to do with disrespect or not hearing them - it has to do with thinking about the needs of current seniors, as well as those decades from now - like me.
We are considering building two facilities, one to the north in Parsons Creek and one downtown on Willow Square. The current situation sees a great level of distrust and lack of faith in the levels of government to accomplish one facility, let alone both, and that distrust and lack of faith has been sadly well earned by governments who have let this slide for far too long. It is certainly government inaction and neglect that has led us to this place, and I do not let that escape me for a moment - but I think the time has come to put aside those thoughts, and arguments over who did what, when, and why to whom, and how, and simply start talking about building for today - and for tomorrow.
I believe we need two facilities in Fort McMurray, given our projected growth. And while this is a young community we do have a surprising number of baby boomers here, and ones who may well wish to retire here and live out their remaining years in the community they helped to establish. I think building only one facility - either north or downtown - would continue the pattern of too little, too late, that has plagued us in infrastructure and that we continue to struggle with daily. We need to develop some long-term vision so we are thinking about the seniors of today, their wants and needs - AND the seniors of tomorrow, and what they might want.
My mother had options when she chose an aging in place facility. She lived in a large city, and could have chosen a downtown location, but she chose one in the suburbs. Why? Because she could walk down residential streets and see children playing. She could enjoy the gardens and the parks. She and her fellow community (and it was very much a community of seniors) didn't have to worry about their fellow members who suffered from dementia wandering into heavy traffic, because they were in a quiet area with only local vehicles. Yes, she had to travel to a hospital if she needed one, and she took a bus the aging in place centre provided to do her shopping - but she was close to her family doctor, which as she aged was far more important than being close to the hospital (in her waning years she visited her family doctor almost weekly). She was close to the neighbourhoods where her children and grandchildren lived, too, and that mattered to her. The important point in this is that it worked for her - she had the choice and the option and she chose how she wanted to spend her remaining years - and isn't that what we all want? Choices and options?
I recognize there are those who think we should forego building at Parsons Creek in order to get Willow Square going faster, including the concept of rerouting the money for the north location into downtown. This worries me, because I then suspect it means we will not get a facility on the north side, and we will have once again limited our options and our choices as we age. And while this may seem to address our immediate needs and desires I am not so certain it addresses our long term goals of sustainability, community, and creating a place where we can make choices that work for us. I fear it puts us back into a place where we are behind in creating infrastructure - and I believe this is one area where we have been behind for far too long, creating tremendous suffering to our elderly and their families, and an area where we can no longer accept that suffering continuing.
I have written in this blog about our need to make Willow Square a reality, and I firmly stand by that and my belief that we need a facility there. I also believe, however, that we need to take a proactive stance for once - and we have done this so rarely here it hurts - and build for today and for the future. I believe we need to find a way to build both facilities and to work through these painful and difficult discussions and decisions (and I know they are painful, as I well recall the discussions I had with my parents as they gave up the home they had lived in for thirty years) and consider all our needs, those of today and tomorrow, while letting go of a past of who did what to who. We can never move forward if we are too busy dissecting the past, and so I am hopeful that we can put it all aside and move on so we can create what this community needs - a present and a future for our seniors (and eventually ourselves, as some of us are not so far off) that is bright and full of choices and options.
I think we deserve that bright future, and a bright today. I think we deserve options, and choices. And I think we deserve both facilities in our community, own downtown and one on the north side of the city, and I consider myself an advocate for that vision of long-term success. I spent the last years of my parent's lives acting as their advocate, and I am passionate about the elderly and their needs as I saw first hand what happens as we age. And call me selfish, but I am thinking about myself, too, because I know the path that lies ahead of me, as I have travelled it before as their companion. I will always advocate for more and better for our seniors, including providing them options and choices as they spend their golden years in our community. Others may differ in their opinion, and I respect that - I share mine with you today, and hope it will be granted equivalent respect.
A very young McMurray Musings -
and the parents she loved.