Over the past 12 months, Kaye Fillmore has needed a new oil tank, furnace and roof. It was a lot to navigate for the recently widowed New Brunswick woman, and more than she could afford as a senior on a fixed income.
Fillmore is thankful a provincially funded emergency home repair program covered her costs, and grateful a seniors group in the area walked her through the process.
"I wouldn't apply because I hadn't heard about it," Fillmore said from her home in Bayfield, a small coastal community near the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island.
She wants to stay in her home, in her community, as long as she reasonably can. As a senior who cooks and cleans for herself, tends her own garden and drives, she should be able to for the foreseeable future. But without help from Terissa Salmon, the seniors' navigator with Nursing Homes Without Walls, Fillmore would have taken on debt she can't afford.
Salmon explains what's available and what's required and helps Fillmore do the paperwork.
"All I have to do is call her and she's here the next day," said Fillmore.
Salmon said she currently has 10 other home repair applications like Fillmore's open.
And while it's Salmon's job to know and understand the available government programs, she said, "it's complicated and it even took me a few times to get the whole process (done) correctly."
She said two years worth of tax forms, T4's, property assessments and a birth certificate have to be submitted.
"There's a lot of seniors in this rural area that haven't seen their birth certificate in 50 years," said Salmon.
A lifeline for seniors living at home
Nursing Homes Without Walls began as a pilot program in August 2019, operating out of the Westford Nursing Home in the Village of Port Elgin. Since its inception, more than 200 local seniors living in rural areas have joined.
"We help seniors who are living in their own home access services … that they need to live there as long as possible and as safely as possible," said Salmon.
Area seniors get regular check-in calls, a lifeline for some during the lonely days of COVID restrictions. There are social events, exercise programs and help accessing grants for anything from the installation of an emergency alert button, to a shower bar to a new roof.
But once all the paperwork is finished and submitted to the Department of Social Development, if the repairs are approved, seniors are able to have a safe affordable home in the community where they're comfortable.
Benefits to safely aging in place
This is a best-case scenario, according to Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, professor of nursing at the University of Moncton, and the driving force behind the project Nursing Homes Without Walls.
"There are many benefits to aging in place that go beyond just because they want to," said Dupuis-Blanchard.
She said her research into the subject shows that seniors who can safely live at home have better physical and mental health, and even with some support in place, it's cheaper to have seniors stay at home than go onto long-term care.
"That's why we're trying to look at innovative ways of being able to offer programs and services that don't necessarily need a new structure and new infrastructure," she said.
"Let's use the nursing homes that are already in place."
Dupuis-Blanchard said the staff in rural nursing homes know the community and the seniors who live there. With additional resources, they are in a position to make a difference.
"We've actually heard from clients who have said, 'You know, if you wouldn't have been here, I probably would have ended up in hospital or being admitted to the nursing home,'" Dupuis-Blanchard said.
"So because of our presence, we've certainly delayed or prevented some from relocating."
Funding for Nursing Homes Without Walls came from the provincial and federal governments and runs out in Port Elgin in October. Dupuis-Blanchard has applied for funding to extend her work and hopes that by the end of the summer she'll know the future of her pilot project.
The Department of Social Development said it has earmarked $7.45 million for its emergency repair program and the homeowner repair program for 2021-22. About 1,600 New Brunswickers, including seniors and people living on low incomes, get help from these programs every year.
Nursing Homes Without Walls is funded separately and got $1.8 million from the federal and provincial governments for two-year pilot projects in Port Elgin, Inkerman, Lameque and Paquetville. The projects are carried out under the direction of the Centre for Research on Aging at the University of Moncton.
Some of the pilots were disrupted for a while by COVID so will continue past October, but the Port Elgin-area project carried on throughout the pandemic so is scheduled to end then.