Governments are always free to ask the opinions of their citizens, but they rarely get the answers they want.
What the government of Newfoundland and Labrador learned a few days ago in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was that while the region’s new long-term care home is a state-of-the-art beauty, it does nothing to address a high and growing need for more spaces.
The new facility has the best of everything — including the finest equipment money can buy and quick access to the local hospital — but it has no more beds for the elderly than did the Paddon Home, the facility it replaced, the facility that now stands empty and seemingly unconsidered.
The waiting list of people who need to receive ongoing professional care is as long as before and will get even longer when Pine Lodge, Labrador’s only privately run care home, closes in less than two months. The 12 people who currently live in the lodge are now looking for new homes, but those homes simply don’t exist.
The Paddon Home was originally opened as a place where senior citizens could retire and receive a moderate amount of essential care.
However, since there was nowhere else for high-need elderly to go, the overwhelming demand gradually forced the facility to provide a level of care it wasn’t designed to handle.
It was clear to everyone in Labrador that the region desperately needed a new long-term care facility to provide relief to the growing numbers of families who had little choice but to care for loved ones by themselves, even if they weren’t getting enough help from provincial agencies.
(One speaker at a meeting last Tuesday told officials from the Department of Health that she’s saved the government about $4 million over a period of 17 years by keeping her husband in his own house.)
After a while, the need became obvious to the provincial government, too.
Unfortunately, something else that was obvious to Labradorians — that a new facility was needed mainly because it meant there’d be more beds available — completely escaped the attention of the government.
More than one speaker told health officials that the community at large had taken it for granted that the Paddon Home would remain open. Common sense easily recognized the logical course of action, but no kind of sense seemed to guide the government.
The province took it for granted that the Paddon Home should be closed and discarded as surplus.
What will now likely happen, said one prominent citizen, is what happens to most such provincial and federal buildings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay: it will be boarded up and forgotten until it becomes a hazard to neighbours and the town council is forced to demolish it.
It will become yet another wasted opportunity to address a severe social need that will otherwise be allowed to fester because of endless delays and a resulting lack of resources.
Not many people showed up for the health department consultation (only a dozen or so) and not many of those actually spoke, but those few didn’t just bring complaints. They also brought a solution.
One experienced local health worker, who clearly had the support of her colleagues and others at the meeting, said she was quite prepared to reopen the Paddon Home as soon as possible to provide beds for another 50 elderly Labradorians. She even presented the health officials with her detailed business plan for the enterprise. All she needs from the provincial government is the permission to proceed.
When (if at all), she asked the two officials, will the government be inviting proposals about what to do with the supposedly surplus structure?
Unfortunately, those officials were not in Labrador to give out information, but only to collect it. They couldn’t answer her question, but they’d be sure to mention her idea to someone in St. John’s. They seemed fairly certain the government was already thinking something about the old Paddon Home, but they couldn’t possibly say what that thought might be.
In the meantime, the grass is growing up around the home, and the windows wait for their boards.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.