Rural seniors need inexpensive, low-maintenance unit housing, say seniors’ advocates

An elderly person folds their hands in their lap.
Nursing Homes Without Walls says that many rural seniors live in homes that are not suitable for the winter. Photo by Christian Newman on Unsplash.
Meg Cunningham - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 16-02-2021
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Nursing Homes Without Walls, a pilot project launched by the provincial and federal government in 2019, was already busy before the pandemic.

The project, headed by Pam Van Eegmond and Terissa Salmon in the Southeast, helps senior citizens in rural areas stay in their homes rather than a nursing home.

Seniors in the Tantramar’s more rural areas, such as Port Elgin or Cape Tormentine, can count on Nursing Homes Without Walls to help them on a day-to-day basis.

Van Eegmond says that the project serves as a multi-faceted resource hub for seniors.

Van Eegmond and Salmon organize a team of dedicated volunteers and service people to provide seniors with extramural nurses, home repairs, cooking and cleaning assistance, or whatever else they may need.

“It’s important that they continue to stay healthy in their homes and that their homes are safe for them to be in,” says Van Eegmond.

Neither Van Eegmond nor Salmon could have possibly envisioned the added difficulties brought on by COVID-19, the majority of which have a massive impact on seniors.

Nursing Homes Without Walls work constantly to respond to the increased isolation, transportation difficulties, and food security issues that arose during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A more pressing issue keeping the project busy lately, however, is the frigid winter.

“There’s a real need for the home renovation program that the government offers, and the adaption program. We’ve probably had 20 seniors this fall and winter… they’ve had holes in their roofs,” notes Van Eegmond. “I talked to a senior on Friday…he’s going up and down the stairs three times a day to fill up wood in his furnace.”

Alternative housing, Van Eegmond says, is a must for seniors in rural areas across the province.

She suggests introducing unit housing for seniors that are easier and less expensive to maintain.

“We’re talking [about] a lot of low income seniors and they cannot manage the repairs of a house, even with the support the government does give them. It’s just a lot.”

“The average senior lives on $19,000 a year. When you start looking at house insurance, heat, electricity, all the expenses of running a house…they’re very limited on what they can do.”

Nursing Home Without Walls has also taken to the airwaves to bring companionship and educational segments to seniors while they are at home.

Their weekly radio show airs every Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m., on CHMA's neighbour station CFTA 107.9FM.

Nursing Homes Without Walls is funded up until October of this year.

Van Eegmond is hoping that the pilot project will be able to continue past the fall, as the seniors she serves on a daily basis are grateful for it.

“We hope that the New Brunswick government will implement this program across rural New Brunswick. It would be very important for us to see that this program continues. The outreach…we think in the long term it does save the government money…Allowing them to live healthy and safely in their house, and that’s what they want to do.”