A Home Away from Home

A visit to Unionville Home Society, in Markham, north west of Toronto, gives one a picture of where the future of nursing homes is headed.

It’s not most folks’ idea of what a community seniors’ residence looks like. In fact, just about everyone refers to the 18 acre, park like development as “the campus.” In Union Villa, the long-term care component of the complex, president John Wilson points through the window: “There were a dozen parking spaces out there for the residents when we opened in 1970.” They’re no longer needed. The average age of admission to Union Villa, he says, is now 89. But there are cars aplenty in the parking lots elsewhere in the grounds because the Society’s goal is keeping people on their feet and active. There’s Wyndham Gardens, a 122 unit apartment building where residents pay a lump sum for a “lease for life”, and Heritage Village, charming clusters of one bedroom rental bungalows where, thanks to housekeeping help, some tenants manage to remain independent into their 90s.

Mary Dominico, 81, is typical of the residents who see a long and active life ahead at Unionville. She paid around $135,000 for a life lease on her sunny one bedroom apartment iWyndham Gardens after the lifelong friend with whom she had been living died nearly five years ago.

“I was looking for opportunities for a social life, and for care if I needed it later on,” she says. Now she finds her little apartment almost too small for the meetings and activities she’s involved with in the residents’ association.

She also feels secure about the future. There’s a nurse on duty in the building, and the society has applied for funding for full 24 hour supportive services for the apartments and the bungalows.

Mary also eats many of her meals in the Garden Restaurant, right in the building. “I must admit, I’ve become lazy,” she laughs. The Unionville campus, like other integrated projects, was built with the idea of providing “continuous care.” When people could no longer look after themselves, went the theory, they could move into the long term care facility with a minimum of upset.

At Heritage Village, for instance, that would mean if a husband needed long-term care, he could be moved just 100 yards away to Union Villa, and his wife could be with him every day. At least in theory. However, thanks to the Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), we can’t pick and choose where we’ll end up, so the husband could be sent elsewhere. Wilson says, however, that they’re first in line back to Union Villa when a bed becomes vacant.