A pilot program that set up 40 long-term care beds at a private care home in Saskatchewan is coming to an end, upending the lives of the facility's workers, residents and their families.
On Monday, surrounded by members of the community, the people affected went public with their complaints during a news conference outside the Emmanuel Villa Personal Care Home in Emerald Park, located approximately 10 kilometres east of Regina.
"What you guys are doing, it is wrong. It is wrong on so many levels," said Nordia Clarke, the villa's lead care aide.
Emmanuel Villa was one of two private care homes that entered into partnerships with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) in 2020 to alleviate a shortage of long-term care beds as the province was forced to move residents out of Pioneer Village in Regina.
WATCH | Residents of Sask. care home forced to pack their bags:
Sixty of those residents went to Brightwater Senior Living in Regina and 40 went to Emmanuel Villa, which shifted its business model and made significant upgrades to get the contract, with the belief it would be extended. The arrangement began in February 2020.
Family members of residents say it was working quite well for them. They say their loved ones felt supported and comfortable.
Now, it's all coming to an end.
Officials with Emmanuel Villa say they approached the SHA with a proposal to continue the agreement past the two-year mark, but got no response, so they continued operating as if the existing agreement was in place even though a new deal had not been signed.
Then the SHA abruptly informed them that residents would start being moved out, they say.
"We've been informed repeatedly that it's a pilot project. It was for a set term. But why? So why do you do a two-year long-term care project? Do you see how those two things don't really fit together?" said Heather Martin, the villa's executive director.
Residents are now rapidly being moved out, sometimes at a pace of four or five a week, Martin said.
Just minutes before the news conference, furniture and other belongings were being loaded onto a moving truck as another resident departed.
Only 21 of the 40 long-term care beds remain at the facility as of Monday.
Family members and staff say the residents do not want to leave. They say some of the residents will be shifted around two or three times before they get to a more permanent location.
Each move means new routines, people and staff members, all of which can take a toll on seniors who are in need of care.
"They were moving people with less than 24 hours notice," Martin said. "Showing up here with a cab to take people off to their next place, you know, while they leave here crying."
Jack Sailor and his brother Gerald Sailor told media that their mother has enjoyed her two-year stint at the villa.
They said her health has improved and they believed she would spend the rest of her life there.
That changed with one phone call that informed them their mom would be moved back into Regina.
"She was going to be displaced from an environment where she trusted the people, where we trusted them, and where we felt that she was thriving. So we felt pretty awful," said Jack.
In a phone interview on Monday, Saskatchewan's Minister of Seniors Everett Hindley said he feels for those affected by the decision. He also acknowledged the transition between care homes is never easy.
Hindley said it was his belief that the pilot program was not going to persist beyond its original two-year period, as the agreement was about filling a short-term need.
"Emmanuel Villa has been operating, or has previously operated, as a personal care home for this community, for the city and for the people," Hindley said.
The minister's description of the arrangement is much different from what management and workers at the villa thought was going on. Even the news release from the original 2020 agreement notes that the "beds will be in place for a minimum of two years with potential for extension."
Martin said the villa made a lot of changes to shift to a long-term care facility for the pilot project. She said the project ending will likely lead to the villa closing its doors.
That means laying off 49 workers, nine of whom are working at the facility as part of the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program. If they lose their jobs and are unable to find new ones in the same field, they could face deportation.
Workers who spoke at the news conference on Monday called for the province to halt the process of moving residents and to save their jobs.
In his interview, Hindley gave no indication that the government would be reversing course.