On the wall of the Nelson and District Seniors Coordinating Society office there’s a framed list of all the people who put funds towards purchasing the building that currently houses the Broader Horizons adult day care program. The ink has bled over the years, the paper has yellowed, but the document has tremendous significance for many local seniors.
“This program has been going for 40 years and it’s been incredibly well supported by this community and this region,” Joan Reichardt told community members gathered last Thursday to discuss the program’s recent temporary closure. She gestured to the framed document and reminded those present that Broader Horizons is an essential part of a healthy community.
“We’ve done extraordinary things with very small amounts of money … you’ve got stability of staff, stability of location and up until now there’s been a consistency and stability that’s so important for people with dementia.”
Unfortunately, on June 30 Interior Health shuttered the program for the summer with two weeks’ notice, leaving many seniors and caregivers without adequate support and respite. As well as upsetting the users, staff and volunteers, the closure drew the attention of Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, provincial seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie, and Kootenay seniors advocacy organizations.
In a recent letter to the Star, Reichardt further expressed her concerns: “In my opinion, IHA is just a front for a callous and uncaring government, with no respect or regard for seniors. This latest act is despicable.”
‘This has never happened before’
When I arrived at the Civic Centre office of the seniors coordinating society on Thursday, it immediately became apparent I was the youngest person in the room by at least two or three decades.
Outreach worker Becky Quirk invited me to attend, along with representatives from Interior Health, but the organization declined to send anyone. Some of those present were clients, others were spouses and friends. Longtime volunteers came to vent their frustrations while patrons shared their struggles.
I was moved by the feeling of solidarity in the room, by the patience and affection demonstrated. One man sitting near me had lived through three strokes, and still struggled with his speech, but felt it was important his voice be heard.
“When I had my third stroke I had no idea who you are. It just wasn’t there. Now I can drive, and it took two years. What I’m saying is Broader Horizons helped me for 5½ years to work and work and to say ‘you can do it, you can do it.’”
Unfortunately, his health and well-being have gone down in the past month since the program closed, and he’s not the only one. Those present shared anecdotes about friends and acquaintances stuck in their homes alone, moving into new facilities or struggling to get along with their strained families. One patron recently passed away, and his widow expressed gratitude for all the support he received from Broader Horizons leading up to the end.
They’re also feeling disrespected.
“They didn’t even have enough decency to come downstairs and talk to us face to face? We had to learn from a letter in the mail? That last Wednesday everyone was crying and it was really upsetting,” one patron said.
“This has never happened before,” said a 12-year volunteer. “I’ve seen the decline of the program but I’ve never seen it close. We’ve become a family — I know who fights over the lemon pie — and when that goes away …”
She shook her head, unable to finish the sentence.
“We do this because we want the program to be there when we need it. A community really needs a program like this and it would be such a shame to see it dribble off into nothing.”
Taking Interior Health at their word
Since the closure was announced, many in the community have expressed concern it won’t reopen as scheduled. Interior Health has assured Mungall, Mackenzie and the Star it will reopen in September, and at the meeting Slocan Valley regional director Walter Popoff, who sits on the seniors advocate council of advisers shared the office’s sentiment that we have “no reason not to take Interior Health at their word.”
But for most of those present, trust has been broken. They shared stories of being lied to or misled by Interior Health management, and poked holes in their rationale for the closure: staffing issues.
Mungall told the Star she doesn’t buy it.
“Again we see reasons why people in our region have an intrinsic distrust for IH and it doesn’t have to be that way … We followed up with the union, with the actual employees and the care aids that provide support. We followed up with family members. Everybody was willing to go that extra mile to do whatever it took to keep the program operating.”
Mungall would like some more answers.
“Here we have a program that has immeasurable positive impacts, particularly for the families of people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and to even have a short disruption is a major problem for those who rely on it.”
She said the community deserves action.
“The minister himself, Terry Lake, is ultimately the one responsible to make some phone calls and make sure that the program doesn’t have any disruptions. My staff has spoken with IH staff to get the scoop on why this disruption took place and frankly I don’t find their rationale acceptable. I’m shocked they would let this happen in the first place.”
Many at the meeting agreed, debating back and forth whether Interior Health’s management has been incompetent or outright malicious. They shared stories of frustration, lamenting budget cuts and inconsistent staffing.
“I think we were outright lied to,” said one patron.
These concerns have all been relayed to the provincial seniors advocate. In a July 29 letter to the community, Mackenzie wrote that she’s contacted Interior Health directly and has been assured they have “learned from this experience and the situation should not be repeated.”
However, she’s prepared to act if things change.
“Be assured that if my office finds either the program has not re-opened or there is an ongoing pattern of closures, we will take further action.”
A supportive family
Until Edwin (Bud) Roberds swung by the office this summer to tell me about Broader Horizons, I’d never heard of it. The effusive, cowboy hat-wearing senior impressed on me the importance of the program: he’s left all of his belongings to it.
Bud wasn’t at the meeting — he was mentioned, with concern — but the family-style supportive environment he described was on proud display. When I gathered everyone for a portrait, they joked happily and embraced each other.
It will be many years, hopefully, before I need the Broader Horizons program, but I’m intensely glad it exists. These are our elders and we have a responsibility to them. But they’re not waiting for the younger generations to come to their rescue; they’re mobilizing themselves. During the meeting the seniors hypothesized about other ways to get word out, and ensure the program continues to receive support.
“We need to let them know this is not okay,” Reichardt said. “We need to fight back.”