Recreation therapy being reduced at Deer Lodge Centre after funding cut

A Second World War veteran and his wife living at Winnipeg's Deer Lodge Centre are worried about how upcoming cuts to recreation therapy programming, volunteer services and support staff will affect their quality of life.

Centre will also see reductions in support staff hours in January

Lorraine Glenesk, 88, and her husband Syd, 95, live at Winnipeg's Deer Lodge Centre and spend a couple of hours each day in the recreation therapy program. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A Second World War veteran and his wife living at Winnipeg's Deer Lodge Centre are worried about how upcoming cuts to recreation therapy programming, volunteer services and support staff will affect their quality of life.

A series of staffing reductions and a cut to recreation therapy will occur at the long-term care centre for seniors and veterans in January. According to the WRHA, the changes are in response to an anticipated funding drop from Veterans Affairs in 2019 to match the reduced number of veterans in care as they age and pass away, as well as a directive from the province to balance Deer Lodge's budget.

"I just wish that there could be a lot more people doing what the staff is doing here. If they came in even for a day and saw where they could cut the hours, I would welcome their coming to do that. Because I just don't see how they can cut things out," said Lorraine Glenesk, 88, who lives at the centre with her husband Syd, 95, who has dementia.

Of huge value to them is the recreation therapy program, which gives the pair a couple of hours of activity, music and socialization each day. Glenesk says the recreation therapists have a special ability to connect with her husband, who has advanced dementia. Syd has lost most of his memory, but when there's music, he sings along.

According to the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, the union which represents recreation therapists at Deer Lodge Centre, recreation services will be cut in half for all residents at the care home — not just the veterans.

"I feel that they'll be unhappy. With being able to do less," said Corey Janzen, a licensed practical nurse and regional vice-president for the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees at Deer Lodge.

"There's going to be a lot less for them to do. So they'll be a lot more isolated, especially if they don't have families around."

Corey Janzen, a licensed practical nurse and vice-president of the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees, Deer Lodge Centre, said residents will be more isolated if recreation services are cut. (John Einarson/CBC)

Recreation therapy is the highlight of the Glenesks' day.

"They say, 'Oh that's just entertainment.' That means a lot to some people who are not able to do very much on their own. Some of them can't even read a book anymore," said Glenesk.

"It's just a bit of life!" she laughed.

As labour negotiations are still underway with the centre, union president Bob Moroz declined to comment on specifics of the cuts. But recreation therapy is very important, he said, to get people out of their rooms, socializing, talking, being active and having fun.

"So the idea to essentially cut that in half for some of the units we're talking about here is remarkable. What are these residents going to do? Are they going to sit in their room and do nothing? Are they going to sit in the cafeteria and do nothing? It's remarkably short-sighted," said Moroz.

On Oct. 9, Deer Lodge chief operating officer Kevin Scott circulated a memo outlining the staffing areas affected by upcoming changes.

90 fewer veterans at centre

In an interview, Scott told the CBC Deer Lodge is working to balance its budget and adjust programming to meet the reduction of veterans in priority access beds from 155 "a long, long time ago," to 65 in 2018.

A document provided to the union — that Scott says is not final — suggests reducing support staff hours. That includes eliminating nine of 10 messenger positions and the volunteer co-ordinator plus cutting hours for unit clerks, diet aides, rehab assistants and health care aides. Scott said there are 10 recreation therapists at the centre, and plans are to reduce their hours, not eliminate their positions.

A Second World War veteran and his wife living at Winnipeg's Deer Lodge Centre are worried about how upcoming cuts to recreation therapy programming, volunteer services and support staff will affect their quality of life. 1:05

"The individual veteran won't see a decrease in services, it's just overall; the numbers have decreased, so we're adjusting our budget and staffing to match," he said.

"We're confident that the individuals directly affected by this will have positions at Deer Lodge."

Veterans Affairs Canada provides $17.01 per day per veteran in supplemental funding to Deer Lodge to cover recreation therapy, spiritual care, end-of-life nursing care and food services, among other things.

A spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada estimated a funding reduction of $112,000 for 2019, based on an anticipated 65 veterans living at Deer Lodge.

"Over the past three years, per diem funding provided by Veterans Affairs Canada to support special program and an enhanced level of service for veterans in care at the Deer Lodge Centre (beyond provincial funding) has increased," wrote Emily Gauthier, on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada. She added the per-diem funding model was a change that occurred in 2015.

Scott said although the funding from Veterans Affairs has increased in the past few years, this is the first time the centre has adjusted its own staffing levels for the smaller number of veterans. He adds that staff salaries also go up each year, increasing costs.

"We need to change some of the practices that are done, some of the services and how they're delivered, to reflect that change," said Scott.

"The math isn't working for me," countered Moroz, who added there are no units at Deer Lodge Centre exclusively for veterans.

"If you're removing the recreation therapy services on a unit, or cutting them in half, how are those veterans on that unit not being affected by that cut? So there's something here that the WRHA is not exactly being forthright here."  

Deer Lodge Centre already made cuts to its nursing staff last year to align with provincial directive to find efficiencies in service. This round of changes is expected to cover $123,000 in savings for this fiscal year, according to a WRHA spokesperson.

"We're tired of cuts. Patient services has gone down because there's not enough people there," said Janzen.

'A huge disservice to the veterans'

Scott said conversations about the changes will continue with unions over the coming weeks.

"I understand people's frustrations because there's a lot of unknowns right now, so we're trying to work through this process so people can actually see, 'what does that final look like?'"

While both Scott and Veterans Affairs Canada maintain that veterans won't be impacted by the changes, the head of the union representing many of the support staff at Deer Lodge disagrees.

"I don't think that the Deer Lodge Centre, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, is fully looking at the larger picture. And that is regardless if you have 85 veterans or 100 veterans in Deer Lodge Centre, they all still require the same quality of care," said Virginia Vaillancourt, acting national president for the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees.  

"I think it's a disservice to the members there and I think it's a huge disservice to the veterans that the employees serve."

Syd doesn't remember his service in the war anymore. His speech is no longer intelligible, but when he's spoken to, his smile lights up the room. And when his wife starts singing Show Me The Way To Go Home he joins in, hitting every word and note, just like he does in the recreation therapy sessions.

"Those are wonderful things," he said.

Deer Lodge Centre will see a drastic reduction in its recreation programs and staffing hours come January. 2:49