New care home in Meadow Lake partially open but still searching for nurses

·3 min read
Arlene Schuler, 80, has moved into the much-anticipated NorthWest Community Lodge in Meadow Lake, Sask.. It replaces the aging Northland Pioneers Lodge, built in 1955, where Schuler used to live. (Bonnie Allen/CBC  - image credit)
Arlene Schuler, 80, has moved into the much-anticipated NorthWest Community Lodge in Meadow Lake, Sask.. It replaces the aging Northland Pioneers Lodge, built in 1955, where Schuler used to live. (Bonnie Allen/CBC - image credit)

Eighty-year-old Arlene Schuler says she couldn't have imagined how nice her new home would be.

Schuler cut the ribbon at Thursday's grand opening of the newly constructed NorthWest Community Lodge, a long-term care home in the northwestern Saskatchewan city of Meadow Lake.

"I love everything about it," said Schuler. "The rooms are magnificent."

The new lodge will eventually have capacity for up to 72 residents — but currently, only 48 beds are open due to a nursing shortage.

It replaces the Northland Pioneers Lodge, which was built in 1955 and housed 53 residents. According to the local fundraising committee, the aging facility wasn't large enough to meet demand, nor was it designed to offer privacy, independence, or state-of-the-art care to residents.

Bonnie Allen/CBC
Bonnie Allen/CBC

The new home offers a "small house" model of care, first introduced to Saskatchewan in a Swift Current care home, with design features that improve quality of life and feel less clinical.

Essentially, the Meadow Lake building is split into six houses, each home to 12 residents who live in individual rooms and share a patio, open-concept living room, dining space, kitchen, and a cook.

The houses have their own names, including Eagle Nest and Wolf Ridge.

Bonnie Allen/CBC
Bonnie Allen/CBC

The building has lots of natural light, family visiting rooms, and a ventilated space for Indigenous pipe ceremonies and smudges.

"We're really trying to move toward a more home-like atmosphere," said Rural Health Minister Everett Hindley, who attended the opening.

"We're really trying to get away from that sort of old style of institutionalized facilities.… These are their homes, for these folks, and we really want them to be that."

Nursing shortage

Two of the six houses aren't operational, though, due to a staffing shortage.

Specifically, the Saskatchewan Health Authority needs to recruit registered nurses for nearly three full-time positions, as well a licensed practical nurse and some continuing care aides.

The health authority's interim CEO, Andrew Will, said part of the reason for the shortage is that the new lodge is larger than the old one.

"We're growing the service here in Meadow Lake, which is really good news. At the same time, we're certainly facing staffing recruitment challenges," said Will.

"Our hope is to recruit additional staff as soon as we possibly can so we can open the full 72 beds."

Bonnie Allen/CBC
Bonnie Allen/CBC

Hindley said the province is recruiting across Canada and abroad, as well as bolstering training opportunities for local residents who are interested in pursuing careers in health care.

"These [shortages] are challenges we face right across the province, whether it's long-term care homes, whether it's hospitals, health centres, EMS services, paramedics. We know we have some challenges," the minister told CBC News after touring the lodge.

Bonnie Allen/CBC
Bonnie Allen/CBC

There's a wait-list for the care home.

"I think there is a lot of optimism about how this is going to continue to serve the community for a long time into the future," said Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison.

"You saw such commitment to making sure we got this right. A lot of the folks who were building this facility are from town here … and really, with that in mind, went the extra mile."

The province contributed $30 million, while the city and rural municipality came up with the other $8 million to build the lodge.

A group of volunteers called the NorthWest Community Lodge Association spent years raising nearly $2 million to pay for furniture, fixtures, and equipment.