The sign says "Future Site of the Lac du Bonnet Personal Care Home," but when Marline Wruck drives past it, she sees red.
"It's been up for a few years, so every time I drive by there I can choose to get angry again."
She's angry because the new 80-bed personal care home (PCH) should already be built, Wruck said. When it was announced in 2012, construction was predicted to start in 2014 and the home was supposed to open this year to replace the current 30-bed facility. The project still hasn't gone to tender.
Why the delay?
When asked about the delay, provincial spokesperson sent an e-mail explaining, "It took longer than expected for the design consultants to provide finalized drawings ready for tender to ensure the budget was maintained."
But problems with the design may only be part of the story on the $32-million dollar project.
"My understanding of the delay is that the province has been struggling to find their fraction of the dollars in the capital budget," said Pinawa Mayor Blair Skinner who sits on the steering committee for the new PCH. "That's what has been reported to us at our progress meetings."
The community has to put up 10 percent of that $32-million price tag. Pinawa and the surrounding municipalities have had their share ready and waiting for at least two years.
"It's been a frustration for all of the municipalities," said Skinner.
The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority needs those additional 50 beds. Marline Wruck drives past the sign on her way to the Pinawa hospital, where she regularly sings to seniors who wait months for a spot in a personal care home bed.
There are 218 people on a wait list in the IERHA. The average wait time for a care home bed in the region is 26 weeks, the longest in the province.
Manitoba needs 5,100 new beds
Those wait times are expected to grow as the baby boomers age. The Manitoba Centre for Health Policy projects that Manitoba will need to add 5,100 personal care home beds in the next twenty years to meet the needs of the baby boom generation.
The province has announced plans for five personal care home projects, including Lac du Bonnet, that will add about 350 care home beds to the current 9,891. Of those five projects, only the Tabor home in Morden is under construction right now. It was first announced in 2010.
Communities step up
The long wait for shovels in the ground and concerns that the province doesn't have the money to build more homes has other communities taking matters into their own hands.
The town of Arborg is one of those communities. After lobbying the province unsuccessfully for several years, the Arborg Seniors Housing Corporation decided to try and raise money to build one themselves.
"The province has no money to build a personal care home," said Maureen Sigurgeirson, manager of the housing corporation. "So we decided that we could assist the province instead of sitting back and complaining about it, let's do something about it and create an aging-in-place facility".
Arborg has submitted a plan to build an 80-bed care home that would be attached to the existing assisted living and senior housing facility.
Their plan is modelled on the Heritage Life Personal Care Home that was built by the town of Niverville and opened in 2013.
Seniors leaving community
In the late 1990s, Niverville was facing a catch-22 situation. With no personal care home or seniors housing, seniors were moving away from the town because there was nowhere for them to go as they aged. Because seniors were moving away, the town didn't have enough seniors to get provincial funding for a care home.
The community mobilized and built an assisted living and supportive housing complex. The town's senior population increased, and the need for a care home became the next priority.
"A number of the couples who had moved into assisted living were finding one spouse had to leave the community because one of them needed long-term care," said Gordon Daman, who was Mayor of Niverville at the time. "That separation was heartbreaking for them and for their family members."
Residents of Niverville raised the money and local contractors dropped their rates by 25 per cent to build the new personal care home. The project's cost worked out to $150,000 for each PCH bed, as opposed to the $400,000 typical per-bed cost when the province builds a PCH.
"We had contractors and volunteers, because they had parents and knew we needed this," said Daman, who still sits on the board of the Niverville Heritage Centre that houses the care home and assisted living.
Now seniors in assisted living can visit a spouse in the care home without even going outside. The Heritage Centre is also home to an event centre, a restaurant and a daycare, and more than 300 employees work there.
Since it opened, Daman says he's had calls from across the country. He's been hired as a consultant by the communities of Carman and Arborg to help them get their plans to build their own PCH approved by the province.
"We're just hoping that the province is able to find the money to look after the operating costs and stamps their approval on the project," said Sigurgeirson of the Arborg plan.
If it goes ahead the community hopes to start construction in 2017 and be open by 2019.
It will make a small dent in the wait list, but Harold Foster, the reeve of the surrounding rural municipality of Bifrost-Riverton, says the community has to move now to ease the pressure on the local hospital and for the well-being of seniors who are waiting for a PCH bed.
"There's a waiting list and when you get to the top and an opening comes in, be it in Selkirk, Fisher Branch or Ashern, that's where you're going to go," says Foster. "They move you off to an hour, an hour and a half away and some of their friends are senior citizens and can't drive anymore. It's almost like shipping them off to be in isolation."
If you have a story about aging you want to share, contact the CBC's Bridget Forbes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harold Foster is the reeve of Bifrost-Riverton, the rural municipality that surrounds Arborg. An earlier version of this story stated he was the reeve of Arborg.Mar 09, 2016 8:47 AM CT