Wabasca seniors’ lodge open and slowly filling up

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

The new Wabasca Desmarais Regional Lodge should be full by the fall, says M.D. of Opportunity Reeve Marcel Auger. It opened on June 15, but with the quarantine requirement for new residents, the decision was made to fill the lodge slowly. The pandemic also delayed the original opening.

“It’s nice to have the seniors and elders here,” he says, not three hours away.

The lodge is owned by the M.D. and Bigstone Cree Nation.

Building this type of facility is a provincial responsibility, says Auger. However, about five years, ago the M.D. decided to build it themselves, as their attempts to get the government to do so hadn’t worked. In the process, they entered into joint ownership with Bigstone Cree Nation. Members from both governments sit on the housing authority which built and runs the lodge.

Auger figures that 70 per cent of the seniors in the lodge will be from Bigstone, Loon River, Trout-Peerless Lake, or the other nearby First Nations.
The housing authority continues to apply for provincial and federal grants, Auger says. It recently found one that “we should fit into.” The grant application isn’t approved, but “we’re on the list.”

A September 1, 2020 Alberta government media release listed a total of 31 communities in Alberta eligible for this grant. This included Wabasca, Westlock/Redwater, and Athabasca.

These communities need more senior’s housing, says the news release. Alberta Health Services identified them as the most in need of more publicly funded seniors spaces. The research looked at “current and projected demand and supply, age of the population, and health-care utilization.”

To address this issue, AHS plans to add publicly funded seniors housing within existing facilities. New and existing continuing care operators are asked to submit proposals.

The goal of the new grant program is to keep seniors within their home community, says the news release. “As of March, there are 27,518 continuing care spaces in Alberta. The average wait for a move into a continuing care facility was 54 days in 2019-20.

“As of March 31, AHS operates 103 continuing care facilities in Alberta. There are also 126 privately operated facilities and 124 non-profit facilities offering continuing care services. Currently, about 400 Albertans are waiting in acute care for continuing care spaces to become available.”

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