The Stoney Health Centre building in Mînî Thnî (Morley). File Photo/Rocky Mountain Outlook

Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda elders who have long lived in Mînî Thnî and require long-term care will soon have the option to live their golden years in place.

Up to $8.9 million in provincial grant funding will be used to support the development of a facility with 21 continuing care spaces in the community. Stoney Health Services (SHS) is aiming to open the facility by summer 2025.

“We are looking forward to having this facility in the community and one of the reasons is that we do have many elders who live in long-term care facilities off reserve,” said Aaron Khan, CEO of the First Nation’s health authority. “They live their whole life in this community, but then, in their golden days, they have to leave and live somewhere else, which can be hard on them as well as their families.”

There are currently no long-term care facilities in the communities of Mînî Thnî (Morley), Gahna (Eden Valley) or Îya Îpan (Big Horn). As a result, Chiniki, Bearspaw and Goodstoney elders in need of continuing care are often left with no choice but to move to facilities in surrounding communities, further away from social and cultural support systems.

“With this facility, we will be able to bring them in and have people living in their own community instead of going somewhere else for their long-term needs,” said Khan.

The funding announcement was made in June 2022 as part of Alberta’s plan to provide and improve culturally appropriate continuing care in Indigenous communities.

To ensure the need is met, community elders are also involved with the project.

“We want to make sure that the culture is there,” said Khan. “With this being on reserve, the first mission is to have our own culture, our own story and traditions be part of that. We’ve needed a facility like this for a very long time.”

Braden Manns, interim vice-president of provincial excellence with Alberta Health Services, stressed the importance of providing culturally safe, accessible health care.

“Through this program, we can continue to work with communities to create innovative approaches to culturally appropriate care and improve quality of care while keeping Indigenous residents close to their loved ones,” he said in a press release announcing more funding to the Indigenous stream of the province’s capital program for continuing care.

Alberta’s 2023 budget includes a plan to dole out $310 million via its Continuing Care Capital program over the next three years. In total, the province plans to spend $1 billion between 2023-25 to begin transforming the continuing care system to meet the growing needs of an aging population.

Architectural design and community consultation for the Mînî Thnî long-term care facility is still underway.

Initially, free space at the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino was considered for the project, but it was determined it would be too costly to bring the required space up to code.

The facility will instead be built near the Goodstoney Elders Lodge and Stoney Nakoda Adult Wellness Centre – set to open in the fall.

While the Goodstoney Lodge does provide a higher level of personal care than at-home healthcare and support services, which SHS also offers, it does not have the ability to safely care for individuals with complex, unpredictable medical needs on a 24/7 basis that long-term care provides.

The new long-term care facility will provide access to registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, in addition to healthcare aides and other healthcare professionals dependent on needs.

Based on a community needs assessment, it was determined by the province the community would receive funding to support space for 21 long-term care occupants. In the future, Khan said SHS will seek to grow that number.

“Based on our population, growth and everything, this is just a starting number. We will absolutely need more space,” he said.

According to the latest available census data, about 10 per cent of the First Nation’s population was aged 60 and up in 2016. From 2011 to 2016, the total population grew about seven per cent. Total population today is estimated around 5,000 people, but census data from 2021 was unavailable due to Stoney Nakoda First Nation chiefs and council not giving Statistics Canada surveying permission.

“Once we have this facility, we will be looking at ongoing needs assessments to seek more funding as demand grows,” said Khan.

About 25 per cent of the initial funding will be released by June this year, Khan added. SHS hopes to get shovels in the dirt as soon as possible with potential for a ground-breaking this spring or summer.

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin said she recognizes the needs of the First Nation for better access to care, among other communities in the region.

“We know that a lot of individuals living in rural, remote or Indigenous communities don’t have the ability to age in place because there are no adequate supports around them,” she said.

“We’ve been working really hard to funnel dollars towards communities that have a need for continuing care and certainly Morley is one of them.”

To enhance Indigenous healthcare, the province is collaborating with Indigenous health leaders on other initiatives, including improving patient complaints and emergency medical response systems in conjunction with First Nations and Métis health leaders.

AHS is also collaborating with various advisory panels and councils, including the province’s primary health care advisory panel, health directors from First Nations communities, health advisory panels from Métis Settlements, the Blackfoot Confederacy, Stoney Nakoda-Tsuut’ina Tribal Council, and the Métis Nation of Alberta.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 14, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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