The Alberta government has launched a panel to review the Seniors Lodge program.

The panel was announced in January. It will be co-chaired by Leduc-Beaumont MLA Brandon Lunty and Alberta Seniors and Community Housing Association (ASCHA) president Arlene Adamson. The nine other panel members are municipal representatives, and representatives of social housing and seniors organizations. 

“We are seeing lots of changes in our seniors population, as the whole world is,” said Jason Nixon, Alberta’s seniors and housing minister. “At the moment, we’re projected to have about a million seniors by the year 2035. That is causing changing circumstances and the need for us to reevaluate what is working well in the lodge program [and] where there needs to be adjustments made, where there needs to be investments.”

The Seniors Lodge program supports 10,850 lodge units in 149 lodges across Alberta. The program provides services to residents including meals, laundry, housekeeping, and recreational programming. 

An Alberta government news release says the review will provide an opportunity “to smooth transitions between lodges and continuing care homes to ensure the needs of seniors will be met when they need to access more care.”

Chris Vining chairs the board of Lakeland Lodge and Housing Foundation, which operates Bonnylodge and Cold Lake Lodge. He says it will be helpful for the panel to examine including some health care services  that would accommodate the changing needs of lodge residents.

“The province really needs to look at what services they are paying to provide within the lodge. Because if you go back even 30 years, the average age of somebody entering the lodge was around 66 or 67 years old. And their length of stay for the most part was averaging about five years,” Vining said.

The average age of people entering the lodge is now in the high seventies, he said, and the average length of stay is close to 10 years. Providing basic home care and even some early memory care will allow people to stay comfortably in the lodges and not have to relocate to a different facility offering higher levels of care.

Nixon says the panel will be looking at those issues.

“It’s one of the biggest issues we need to address both on healthcare reform and in our lodge programs,” he said. 

“We’re doing it through the panel, which is looking at exactly that—what is the connection to helping seniors be able to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. We know lodges will be part of that solution. 

“We’re also doing that at the same time as the work we’re doing on health care reform with the new continuing-care health care organization, to make sure that the connections between the lodges and that work like home care, and what is taking place in communities, is working.”

Nixon said the panel will also look at capital plans to build, upgrade, and maintain lodges in the province. He said some facilities are running below capacity while others have waiting lists.

“We know we’re going to need more units. That’s just the reality of our population growth. And we’re investing in that too,” he said. “But I want to make sure that we’re getting all the capacity out of Albertans’ previous investments in existing facilities, and the only way to do that is to properly invest in site maintenance or renewal dollars.”

He said the department is hearing that units, especially in older lodges, need to be bigger. 

“That’s one of the things that [the panel] has definitely been challenged to have a look at—how we can use our current lodge stock better, and how we can make sure that we’re not having high vacancy rates in certain areas of the province and low vacancy rates in other areas of the province; how we can smooth that out to benefit all the communities that are involved,” he said.

Vining said the panel provides an opportunity to identify areas of concern and propose a course of action.

“I’m optimistic that there’s an opportunity here to get a bunch of information,” he said. “It’ll just be a matter of what the minister will be able to do once they get that.”

He said some of the issues on the housing side of the equation will be straightforward, but introducing other services will require coordination with other ministries.

“That’s where the minister is going to have to be able to open up and take those concerns to other ministries,” Vining said. “More than ever it’s health, to be able to get the support for the residents and the buildings and the foundations that we need.”