Ottawa company dreams big for seniors with small houses

As fresh concerns emerge over conditions at long-term care facilities, Coach Homes of Ottawa is offering some seniors an alternative: a tiny house and a package of health services, to help them live more independently near family.

Coach Homes of Ottawa is selling and leasing backyard dwellings with services

Coach Homes of Ottawa is leasing 468-square-foot coach homes like this one, along with a package of services to allow frail seniors to age near family. Ottawa's bylaws now allow such dwellings in backyards. (Susan Burgess)

With city-run care homes under the microscope following stories of abuse, a new company in Ottawa is pitching an alternative vision for aging: a small house in a backyard, with a package of health services.

Coach Homes of Ottawa Inc. is showing off its model homes for the first time at the Ottawa Fall Home Show, which is happening at the EY Centre through Oct. 1.

This company sells and leases four designs, which range in size from 468 to 634 square feet. They come with extra-wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, accessible showers, and a full set of apartment-sized appliances.

Most importantly, the company can install them right in the backyard of another property, such as the home of a senior's adult child. 

"Social interaction with family is really important," said Louise Desjardins, president of Coach Homes of Ottawa. "And a lot of seniors who go into retirement homes feel that isolation."

Homes come with health support

Desjardins has formed a unique partnership with another Ottawa company to make the homes especially attractive to seniors.

Nurse on Board has designed a package of services to help people live somewhat independently in the coach homes, even with serious medical problems. Clients get access to a registered nurse to co-ordinate their care, which includes in-home physiotherapy, foot care and dental hygiene. 

Susan Hagar's company Nurse on Board developed health services to go with the homes that Coach Homes of Ottawa is leasing and selling. The models are on display at the Ottawa Fall Home Show. (Susan Burgess)

The package is available to those who buy or lease. A person leasing the 468-square-foot model would pay approximately $2,500 dollars a month for both the house and the services.

That's significantly less than the cost of many retirement homes, according to Susan Hagar, a registered nurse and the owner of Nurse On Board.

Patients in long-term care have more serious medical needs than those in retirement residences, but Hagar said the coach homes with support could be an option for them as well.

Many people end up in long term care after being discharged from hospital with inadequate supports, she said, so a service like that provided by Nurse On Board can help fill the gap. The company can also help customers navigate the help available through the province's home care system and their private insurance.

"What we know about retirement residences and long-term care is that people are suffering from helplessness, loneliness and boredom," said Hagar. "The solution for that is to have them near children, have them near pets, have them near a garden, have them near the natural life that they are used to. They will live longer. They will require less medication."

Share Taylor is checking out coach homes for her own 86-year-old father, and as a possible future option for herself as she ages with multiple sclerosis. (Susan Burgess)

Visitors praise privacy, accessibility

The idea made sense to some visitors to the model homes. Share Taylor was looking at one of the homes as a possibility for her 86-year-old father. 

"Something that we can make accessible, that looks normal, that you're not having to use special aids and what-not, that's very important for him and for us."

Taylor is also thinking about her own future with multiple sclerosis, and the options available to her as she ages.

"I've already said to my husband, you're never putting me in a long-term care home," she said.

Institutions the wrong way to go: consultant

In an ideal world, nobody would live in a long-term care home, according to Toronto health care consultant Patricia Spindel.

"As soon as you institutionalize people, what you do is you also de-personalize them," she said.

Not all seniors will be able to live with their families and some won't want to, Spindel said, but she'd like to see many more small, community-based living options instead of large nursing homes. That's the model now in place for people with developmental disabilities, after the government shut down institutions.

The province also does a better job helping people with developmental disabilities plan for the supports they will need in future, she said. While elderly patients turn to private companies like Nurse On Board, those with developmental disabilities have access to publicly funded help.

"There needs to be case-management options where you have people who can go in and actually plan with older people for what they're going to do as their disability levels increase."