More than 150 retirement home residents in Prescott-Russell may be facing a chilly move come the new year.
At a meeting in early November, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell decided it would end its agreement for subsidized residents with homes and other long-term care facilities that were no longer compliant with provincial regulations surrounding sprinkler systems.
In 2013, the province mandated all homes and facilities install automatic sprinkler systems within 5 years. The deadline is December 31.
The UCPR subsidizes upwards of 450 people in Prescott-Russell. However, Anne Comtois-Lalonde, the director of social services for the UCPR, says there are still 11 homes that may not meet the deadline. If that’s the case, more than a third of subsidized residents—162 to be exact—are at risk of losing their subsidy unless they move to a compliant residence.
During the meeting, Comtois-Lalonde said her department sent letters to the 11 homes warning them that if they didn’t meet provincial guidelines, they’d be losing the money for subsidized residents. Whether that information was passed on to the residents and families is unclear.
“I admit that the families weren’t necessarily included in that discussion,” said Comtois-Lalonde in a follow-up interview.
Residences will usually reserve a small portion of their rooms specifically for subsidized residents. According to Comtois-Lalonde about 10 per cent of these rooms remain vacant. To be clear, the subsidization of residents is a provincial program administered by the UCPR. Comtois-Lalonde says this is where the decision to end subsidy agreements with non-compliant residences comes from.
Comtois-Lalonde wouldn’t share which homes were in this position, but said some have started the work. She added that many homes were waiting to see if there would be provincial funding for the renovations. Indeed, last October, nearly four years after introducing the new legislation, the province put forward its $20 million Fire Sprinkler Retrofit Program geared toward small and rural homes. According to Comtois-Lalonde, residences that completed the renovations before the program was announced weren’t eligible to recoup costs.
‘No small thing’
The Review spoke with an administrator at Heritage Lodge in Vankleek Hill on background. They said the lodge’s sprinkler systems were installed before the province made it mandatory.
They also confirmed the lodge’s few subsidized rooms were currently occupied.
At the other end of Prescott-Russell, at the Résidence St-Mathieu in Hammond, owner Nicole Normand said she doesn’t understand how some residences wouldn’t meet the deadline.
In an email, Normand said the residence installed automatic sprinklers in 2015—a $130,000 project.
She also said there are several subsidized residents at St-Mathieu and that it has has two vacant subsidized rooms.
The Review asked Comtois-Lalonde about the possibility of a residence showing it will have the work completed soon after the December 31 deadline. She replied it would consider this on a case-by-case basis. But ultimately, “(Residences) had five years,” she says. “We’ll look at how we can minimize the disruption.”
Bearing the brunt of this whole ordeal are the 162 subsidized residents currently living in residences that may soon be non-compliant. They face a move in the middle of the winter—possibly uprooting and changing communities—or stay and lose that money. This results from decisions entirely outside of their control.
Comtois-Lalonde acknowledges the predicament these residents find themselves in.
“This is no small thing,” she says before adding, “There will be space to accommodate (residents) but it won’t be an easy task.”