PHOTO: TOM MacGREGOR
Veterans in the new Dianne and Irving Kipnes Centre for Veterans in Edmonton may have trouble explaining to their families that there is a pony in their room. But it’s true.
Trained miniature ponies have been added to the menagerie at the home for 120 veterans on the former Canadian Forces Base Griesbach in north Edmonton. Buddy and Ramsay are two house-broken animals bred for their gentleness and ease around people. Though they have their own coral outside the centre with a shelter, they are brought into the centre to tread along the hardwood floors and visit with the residents.
It is all part of philosophy of care giving for older people called the Eden Alternative which is being espoused by a number of seniors residences in the United States and adopted by the new centre.
The $23-million facility opened in 2005 as a replacement to the Mewburn Veterans Centre. “The Mewburn building was a good building in its time,” said Betty Kolewaski, the centre administrator. “It was 40 years old. Some of the floors had four-bed wards.”
The new facility is two-storeyed with all private rooms grouped into eight houses. Each house has 15 residents and its own kitchen and dining room.
The first floor has an area for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The second floor is for medically fragile residents and independent veterans. There are two female residents as well.
“In the centre is our great hall or town centre,” explained the centre’s manager of communications Sherry Schaefer. “It can be one big room where we hold parties or bingo afternoons but it also breaks into sections. It can also be a chapel for services or a pub.” Other amenities on site include a barber shop and coffee shop with café seating and exercise room.
Katie Mabbutt is a member of the ladies auxiliary at Gibbons Branch, 30 kilometres north of the city. She and other volunteers operate a coffee shop in the residence five days a week. “The veterans like to come here and buy their coffee or a chocolate bar and just talk,” she said. “I sometimes go with them on a trip. We can talk about that.”
On the main floor also features a comfortable sitting lounge with a gas fireplace near the entrance and a family dining room for private functions.
“The second floor is named the Tom Barton house, after the former president of Alberta-Northwest Territories Command, in recognition to the $1.5 million contribution the command made to the foundation,” said Schaefer. A portrait of Barton hangs on the wall near the elevator with a plaque explaining the donation.
The Eden Alternative philosophy is quite evident in the look and the programs available to the residents. “It was a philosophy that was born in upstate New York,” said Kolewaski.
She credits the doctor team of William Thomas and his wife Julie Myer-Thomas for developing the concept after studying various long-term care facilities. “There are three plagues in these homes despite the best medical practices: loneliness, helplessness and boredom,” she said. The only other residence in Canada certified to be using the method is the Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon. A number of the staff at the Kipnes Centre have gone to Saskatoon for training.
The caregivers try to fight the three plagues with a varied program of activities ranging from day trips to regular bingo sessions put on by local Legion branches and ladies auxiliaries.
Visually the philosophy is obvious by the number of plants and windows in the building. The ground floor has several glass sliding doors so that residents can get out and enjoy the air and the gardens. Many have their flower plots to tend when the weather is right.
While Buddy and Ramsay are something new for the facility, the residents are used to having a dog around at all times which visits the common areas and private rooms.
One of the houses has a number of birds which are looked after by veterans.
Each of the several rooms is named usually for an Alberta landmark. Quilts and other forms of art created by the residents usually convey the theme of the house has taken on for itself. Residents also keep display cases for their rooms for personal items that speak of their service and family lives.
Also adding to life in the home is a day care centre for children aged 19 months to six years. There are 52 spaces for the children in the centre run by the YMCA.
“One popular feature is that we have the children deliver mail. There is a wagon that children pull that is painted with the colours and logo used by Canada Post Corporation,” said Schaefer.
“The YMCA is a tenant in the building but we find that both groups benefit,” said Schaefer. “There is a clear affinity between the residents and the kids. The kids think of the residents as grandpas–and some grandmas.”
The Rosedale Estates seniors residence is next door and is connected to the Kipnes Centre. Many of veterans have family and friends living there for visiting.
All around the centre is evidence of Alberta’s booming economy. Much of the former army base is the midst of development for housing giving the residents a constantly changing view–and a lot to keep away the three plagues of long-term residences.