Supporters of Fairvern Nursing Home are breathing a sigh of relief this week as District council voted unanimously in favour of allowing the upper-tier government to take over the reins of the nursing home’s future.
The decision was passed by District council at its February 18 meeting in a packed council chamber as Fairvern supporters looked on.
There were concerns that the motion might not make it through, particularly as coucillors from the townships of Georgian Bay and Muskoka Lakes questioned the impact adding Fairvern to its responsibilities would have on the District levy, and whether their municipalities would benefit from such a venture. Such rumblings prompted many background discussions and attempts to convince opponents that Fairvern’s survival and expansion in the form of more long-term care beds would be a positive move forward for the entire area.
Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano told Doppler that while she understood some of the councillors’ concerns, she was also extremely worried about Fairvern’s future. But in the end, an agreement to look for all other funding avenues to carry the home’s redevelopment forward seemed to allay fears.
“So basically, they proposed an amendment that says we will look at alternative funding options and we will lobby the province for more funding than they give right now and I mean that makes perfect sense to look at everything that’s out there,” said Terziano. “I was certainly happy with that and then, you know what, they were all supportive. We ended up with a unanimous ‘yes’ and that’s really great for our area.”
The decision by council means District staff has been given a green light to move forward with an application for additional beds as they work toward a submission deadline of March 31.
Fairvern currently has 76 long-term care beds. It has been approved for another 20 but in order to become sustainable and comply with current provincial standards it would ideally expand to 160 beds, according to a consultant’s report presented to the District health committee.
The District already manages The Pines in Bracebridge, a long-term care facility with 160 beds, and is in a good position to try and move forward the redevelopment and operation of a new and expanded Fairvern in Huntsville.
“So where we are now is we’ve now been directed to work with the Province and so the Ministry of Long-Term Care is the ultimate decision-maker in terms of identifying which organizations are able to operate long-term care homes provincially, so the next step now is to submit our application for additional beds,” explained District Health Commissioner Norm Barrette.
He also noted that District staff will be working toward transferring Fairvern’s existing long-term care bed licenses to the District and acquiring the administrative approvals to allow the construction and eventual operation of a redeveloped nursing home by the District.
“So we’re working on a couple of things at the same time because time is of the essence. We understand the provincial government wants to have projects approved that actually are completed in a fairly short and quite aggressive timeline, so we will be working on key things concurrently in anticipation of an approval coming from the Province,” added Barrette.
The redevelopment of an expanded Fairvern is currently estimated to cost roughly $51 million of which the District would be responsible for about $23 million. But Barrette noted that those numbers could change.
“That’s based on a number of assumptions… as construction projects, if they happen to take longer than planned generally the costs go up from what’s budgeted so that price is really based upon a very compressed project timeframe, getting out to construction in the shortest amount of time and having the home ready for residents to move into by 2023,” he said, adding that if the project stretches beyond 2023, the cost will likely have to be adjusted.
The fact that District staff has taken the project over is good news, according to supporters. “I’m very, very happy about it. Some good news after all that work,” said former Fairven board member and District and Huntsville Councillor Tim Withey. He said the decision to have some of the Fairvern residents attend the meeting where District councillors voted on whether to have the District take responsibility for the long-term care facility was ‘brilliant’.
“It would’ve been pretty hard for anyone to vote against it with that kind of show and there were some very impassioned speeches,” he said, adding that the Province has announced 15,000 new long-term care beds and half of them have already been apportioned.
“There’s 7,500 left and we better get on it,” Withey urged. “We can’t let any more sort of slip out without getting our share.”
It’s hugely important for Huntsville, it’s hugely important for the hospital in Huntsville, for our health care campus—for growth. ~Tim Withey
“I mean there’s 120 new jobs, potentially, with an expanded Fairvern. That’s a lot of decent-paying jobs,” Withey said, adding that it will also help with the waitlist for long-term care beds in the community while also hopefully freeing up hospital beds currently occupied by patients in need of long-term care beds in facilities such as Fairvern.
Terziano and Withey said they’re hopeful that the Province will respond favourably.
“The Province already approved a 96-bed home. So when they can make the licenses available to bump that up to 160, it just makes really good business sense,” said Terziano. “I know there’s a lot of people applying for these licenses but I’m optimistic and I think they know the District will be a good operator.”
Former Huntsville and District Councillor Fran Coleman, who also chaired the District’s community services committee which looked after The Pines, was one of the people who made a deputation to District council urging them to move forward with the project.
“When the need is there, the District has expanded,” she said, recalling when it applied for additional beds for The Pines going from 105 to 160 in 2003. Coleman also noted that, based on her experience, senior levels of government like the Province and feds like partnerships. She said there was already a buy-in from the District at $10 million when Fairvern was seeking approval for an additional 20 beds, the Town of Huntsville has contributed by agreeing to build the road to a newly constructed Fairvern, and local Huntsville businessman Pat Dubé has donated the lands where the new Fairvern would be built.
“This is very important to our community,” she added.
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