When Betty Hamilton read a magazine story about naturally occurring retirement communities in March, she said she was gripped by the concept and slipped copies of the article under the doors of other seniors in her building.
Hamilton said she invited them to meet and discuss the article.
Just seven months later, the Belmont Arms apartment building in Halifax's south end, where Hamilton has lived for four years, will have the first aging in place program on the East Coast to be set up by Ontario-based Oasis Senior Supportive Living.
"There were about 15 of us that first evening came together and discussed the content of the article," Hamilton said. "And from there it was like a seed being planted."
Oasis sets up programs in individual buildings based on what the community of seniors wants. They provide the funding that they get through the government for a period of two years. After that the community works with a local partner to get continued funding from whatever sources are available.
At a planning meeting Friday in the building's common room, sheets of paper containing ideas for the program raised by residents in previous meetings lined one wall.
They included health clinics, communal meals, a community fridge, workshops, game nights and group physical activities.
Betty Hamilton said she first learned about the program in a magazine article. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)
Martha Nutbrown, a former nurse who has lived at the Belmont Arms for 15 years, said several meetings took place after the initial meeting. She and others began researching the subject and making calls.
It wasn't long after that Nutbrown got an email from Catherine Donnelly, a professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., who is working to expand the Oasis program.
'Dance of joy'
Donnelly said she was coming to Halifax to start an Oasis program and wanted to meet with seniors in the building.
Martha Nutbrown has lived in the building for 15 years. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)
"We did the dance of joy, basically," Nutbrown said. "We were so thrilled. And then when we met her, she was fantastic."
Donnelly said the original Oasis senior supported-living project started in one apartment building in Kingston and was developed by older adults who lived there and realized they didn't know their neighbours.
Catherine Donnelly is an associate professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario (Queen's University)
She said the residents there worked on building a community designed and developed by older adults who lived in the building so they could stay in their apartments for as long as they could.
Donnelly said she and her colleague at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy at Queen's University, Vince DePaul, an assistant professor, became involved in the program in 2017.
Oasis had just received funds from Ottawa when residents of Belmont Arms asked for a program to be set up in Halifax so it was "the perfect time," she said.
An apartment building in Halifax's south end will have the first Oasis supportive living program on the East Coast. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)
Donnelly said she and DePaul spent a week with the residents in July getting a sense of what they would be interested in and what a program would look like.
She said programs are tailored to the needs of people in individual buildings and communities but focus on physical activity, meal gatherings and social programs.
Donnelly said they did a study comparing the health effects of the first Oasis program to other matched buildings that didn't have such a program, which revealed interesting results.
"We found people who were living in a building that had Oasis, that eventually went to long-term care, were able to stay in their home for one year longer compared to the buildings without Oasis," she said.
"We found they used 55 per cent less home care services. They reduced their emergency departments and health and hospitalizations as well."
Part of the process of setting up an Oasis program, Donnelly said, is identifying a community partner that has similar values. She said they will be working with Spencer House in Halifax.
Donnelly said the program brings together landlords who donate space, a community agency that handles the funds and hires locally, and the residents.
She said the owners of the Belmont Arms said over 75 per cent of the building's residents are older adults.
Activities already being organized
The final step for the program in Halifax is hiring an on-site co-ordinator, but some of the planned activities like workshops and social gatherings are already being organized, Donnelly said.
Allison Davis is executive director of Spencer House in Halifax. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)
Allison Davis, the executive director of Spencer House, said, like Oasis, they are a grassroots organization where people own the program.
Davis said she was excited to be part of the program as the needs of the community are growing and changing and working with the residents of Belmont Arms is one way they can help support that need.
According to Donnelly, Oasis is still looking for another community in Halifax that might be interested in the program.
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