Four months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin.
And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside.
In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice.
Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.”
Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.
Sherwood explained 12 per cent of those deaths should occur in a hospice, with an average stay of three to four weeks.
The 10-bed hospice – the original $1.6 million pledge from the province was for an eight-bed facility – will, in fact, serve as a palliative care hub with the residence portion offering 24-7 specialized care.
On site will be a palliative care clinic and services including caregiver respite and support, grief and bereavement programs, wellness services, psychological and spiritual care and educational resources.
Ideally, the hospice should be located on a two- or three-acre property in St. Thomas or on the periphery of the city, clearly visible to the community to aid in fundraising efforts.
The fully accessible building, with an area of 15,000 square feet, will embrace residents and their families in a welcoming, home-like environment.
Each of the private rooms will be 350 square feet in size with an additional family sleep room, complete with washroom.
A 4,400-sq. ft. resource centre will be a feature of the hospice, as will an 800-sq. ft. community meeting room and a clinic area.
Construction costs for Hospice of Elgin will be in the range of $5.2 million, with an additional $1.6 million required for development costs, contingency fund, furnishings and equipment.
The projected annual operating costs are in the range of $1.6 million, with the province committing $840,000 toward that figure.
Sherwood indicated the capital budget campaign goal is $9.5 million, with the hope the city will contribute $1.6 million.
That campaign target includes a $1.8 million sustainability fund which will “provide complete confidence to donors and key partners that through their capital contribution they are also ensuring a sustainable future for five years and beyond.”
She added there is already a community commitment from two major donors of $2 million, based on municipal support.
St. Joseph’s Health Care Society will own and sponsor the hospice with governance through a local board of directors.
When asked by Mayor Preston as to whether Elgin county council has made a financial commitment, Sherwood advised “There is no indication yet of support . . . but they are interested in more information.”
Coun. Steve Peters reminded members, “We’re investing in more than bricks and mortar,” with regard to the resources available to the community and to caregivers.
Coun. Linda Stevenson added, “This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.”
Preston assured members of the delegation that although funding for the hospice was not included in 2020 budget deliberations, “It is a huge need for our community.
“How do we get this to happen? We won’t give up on the hospice.”
ALMA DEVELOPMENT CHECKS AND BALANCES
It would appear, based on the report of the site plan control committee contained in Monday’s (Jan. 20) council agenda, that work on the three-tower residential development on the former Alma College property “is anticipated to be initiated immediately.”
That’s according to a summary report from city manager Wendell Graves that will also be in front of council Monday.
At that time, members will be asked to approve “an amendment to the City Zoning By-law to remove holding zone symbols from the former Alma College lands located at 96 Moore Street.”
This in spite of questions raised by council at the Jan. 13 reference committee meeting dealing with Community Improvement Plan rebates awarded Patriot Properties, the project developer; access roads into the property; the commemorative features included in the heritage easement agreement; positioning of trees to replace those cut down earlier this year; and ongoing concerns about shadow impact on the neighbourhood.
Pat Keenan, the city’s director of planning, in his report to council indicates he agrees with the findings and recommendations of the updated traffic study that proposes access to the site from a new road off Ross Street and an extension of McIntyre street westward into the property.
It has never clearly been explained what happened to the proposed entrance off Wellington Street which would have eased traffic movement on both Moore and McIntyre streets.
This road was shown on preliminary plans for the development.
As for the updated shadow impact study, it concludes: “none of the shadows impact adjacent properties for more than the time intervals given in the criteria used for the study.”
Remember, the study was undertaken using City of Waterloo shadow study criteria.
Keenan assured council shadows from the structures “will have minor impact in winter.”
Hard to imagine buildings of this height towering over the neighbourhood will only have “minor impact.” Keep in mind, it is based on City of Waterloo criteria.
And, there is no mention of the urban design review undertaken by the Sierra Group of Companies.
A year ago, Sue Fortin-Smith – a registered professional planner and former chair of the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee – appeared before council to document the shortcomings in reports related to the development of the Moore Street property.
She referred to the urban design review as “an afterthought” and an “armchair review,” based on the fact the author did not even visit the development site to document such factors as shadowing, obstructed views and loss of privacy.
The recently approved Alma heritage easement agreement contains the following proviso.
“An interpretation plan and detailed technical plans pertaining to the commemorative features and describing the design, construction, material specifications and maintenance requirements for the significant components of the commemorative features shall be submitted to the city within the first 90 days following registration of this agreement on the title of the property.”
A similar clause is included regarding restoration, preservation and maintenance of the amphitheatre.
No mention of these conditions in any of Monday’s reports to council.
“There are checks and balances everywhere.”
At the reference committee meeting, when Coun. Steve Peters asked about the commemorative features, the response from Keenan was “they are all identified on the plans.”
John Sanders, the city’s legal counsel, added: “All commemorative features will be attached to the heritage easement agreement registered to the property.”
But, no mention of the mandated interpretation plans noted above.
Coun. Gary Clarke raised a key point when he sought the method to be used for final approval on each commemorative feature.
“Everything will be submitted to the city for approval. I will be the contact on this.”
What input will council members and the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee have?
Not to worry, assured Keenan, “There are checks and balances everywhere.”
When it comes to those checks and balances, how vigilant will city staff and council be?
Watch out for this one.
A report from Ross Tucker, director of parks, recreation and property management, detailing the work needed to repair the slate roof at city hall.
The project is included in the 2020 capital budget, however, a report was requested before tendering for the project.
The work includes replacing missing, broken and dislodged slates as a priority.
On a cautionary note, Tucker’s report advises, “Due to the heritage designation of the building, replacement slate should be matched as close as possible to the existing material.”
Last fall the city engaged the services of Fishbourne Building Sciences Group to provide a visual roof evaluation report on city hall and the annex.
With these repairs and replacement, Fishbourne indicates the anticipated service life of the roofs will be extended for up to 70 years.
Tucker notes, “The tender will be a two part-process with costs for city hall’s roof to be separate from the Annex roof. It is hopeful that the allocated budget of $450,000 will cover both roof repairs this year.”
We can’t help but note cost estimates for repairs to the new police headquarters have been wildly off target.
Oh and better button down the language on warranties associated with the roof works.
AN EMERGENCY SITUATION
Conditions treatable by paramedics that have gone untreated due to lengthy or delayed ambulance response times have resulted in fatal outcomes across Elgin county.
That was the warning delivered to Elgin county council this past Tuesday (Jan. 14) by Shaun Taylor and Tyler McLellan from Unifor Local 302.
Across the county, there are five ambulance bases – two in St. Thomas and stations in Rodney, Dutton and Aylmer – and one ambulance post.
During the day there are six ambulances and 1 emergency response unit (ERU) available for service. Overnight this drops to five ambulances.
By comparison, in Huron County with a smaller population and fewer calls for service per year, there are eight ambulances available
during the day.
It is not uncommon for ambulances in Elgin to transport patients to stroke, trauma and advanced cardiac treatment facilities out of the county.
In their presentation to council, the pair noted: “Only two calls for service
need to occur overnight to place ambulance service levels in Elgin county at a critical level.
“The trend for critical levels is a near-daily occurrence with critical levels being reached multiple times in a 24-hour period.”
The lack of response to this dangerous reality has increased stress levels for paramedics.
In their written deputation came the warning, “It is not uncommon for urgent calls to go 30-plus minutes with no ambulance assigned to them due to the
lack of available units in the county.”
However the aim of their appearance before council was “not to fear-monger or seek compensation for members, but to advocate for an adequate level of funding to deliver an appropriate (safe) level of transport-capable ambulance services to the residents of Elgin county and the City of St Thomas.”
“It is vital that a concrete plan be made to address paramedic/ambulance service levels now and going forward . . .”
With an increase in residential development across the county and in St. Thomas,
“comes additional strain on a service that is already under considerable strain. It is important to note that the ageing population of the county is also more vulnerable and likely to require/request ambulance service.
“Increasing requests for service due to mental health or drug-related
emergencies have also emerged.”
This often results in ambulances from Middlesex-London, Oneida and Oxford responding to calls in Elgin.
Meantime, the ERU unit stationed in Bayham is often dispatched to calls more than 20-minutes distant from its base to answer calls elsewhere in the county.
“West Elgin, Dutton-Dunwich, Central Elgin, Southwold, Bayham and Malahide are often left without ambulance coverage as units are deployed to cover other areas of the county.
“It is not uncommon to have one or two ambulances available for the entire geographic area with neighbouring services placed on the edge of their coverage areas to help adequately cover the residents of Elgin county and the City of St Thomas.”
In their concluding remarks, the two stressed: “It is vital that a concrete plan be made to address paramedic/ambulance service levels now and going forward; and that a commitment to the service is made with respect to an immediate review of call volume and an immediate response to up staffing a minimum of 36 hours of a transport-capable ambulance to service the needs of the residents of Elgin County and the City of St Thomas.”
ON THE HORIZON
City bus drivers employed by Voyago are now unionized and as sure as the bus stops here, they’ll be seeking a wage hike and enhanced benefits.
No doubt the condition of the buses they operate will also be on the table for discussion.
Don’t close the books on this year’s city budget just yet.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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