Twin Oaks of Maryhill to close, with residents moving to Kitchener

In an era of ever-growing regulation, small rural homes find themselves facing many hurdles to stay open

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The phrase “aging in place” has taken on more meaning in recent years, and more urgency, in rural communities like Woolwich and Wellesley. Amidst an aging population, growing costs of care and a shortage of smaller housing options in the country-side, it’s an issue that has been on the minds and the agendas of local municipalities.

Highlighting the challenge, the Twin Oaks of Maryhill, a long term care (LTC) facility in the township, will soon be closing down for good. The 31-bed home will see its residents move to a new facility being built in Kitchener.

“We’ve been a family business for over 45 years. As a matter of fact, we’ll be 50 years in 2021 which is only a few years down the road. And we’ve always made it work, up until now,” said Ralph Link, home administrator for the family-run LTC.

The home was started by Link’s father in 1971 in a nearby convent in the village, and then rebuilt from the ground up in 1987 at its current location besides the local Catholic School. Though the Twin Oaks, like many care facilities, stood for decades since then, the provincial government has become far more involved in seniors’ care in recent years.

In 2014, the government put out a new mandate requiring all older homes in the province to redevelop to meet modern building standards – a proposition well into the millions of dollars for the small Maryhill facility.

“In 1998 the government came out with new structural standards, and I mean we had just built it ten years before that,” explained Link.

“But we constructed the building according to the older standards, plus a little bit more. So we are classified as a ‘B’ facility. The government has come out with a redevelopment program in which they want all nursing homes that were not built according to 1998 standards to rebuild by 2025.”

The Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) advocacy group notes changes to the building standards include additions like sprinkler systems in LTC rooms, back-up generators for facilities, as well as more spacious room sizes. The latter is especially important for residents with dementia, who form about two thirds of LTC residents, and who often have a strong need for personal space.

“Nearly half of Ontario’s 630 long-term care homes require significant renovations or to be rebuilt in order to meet current design standards and provide greater comfort and safety. Many of these homes are found in small and rural communities,” reads an OLTCA report.

The required work, even with the government offer of financial assistance, was still beyond what Twin Oaks could afford. Moreover, with no offspring interested in taking over the business, Link said he planned to retire after the sale.

“Our facility was built in 1987 and we made it work at that time. But we certainly didn’t have the rules and the regulations that the government had back then. And they didn’t give us any funding back then. So the Ministry of Health with their funding, it just doesn’t add up, so we just decided to leave the business and sell the license.”

Under the provincial government’s funding subsidy program, eligible LTCs would be able to get a minimum payment of $16.65 per day, per resident bed, for the next 25 years to cover construction costs. That amount could go up as high as $23.03 depending on specific circumstances. But Link says that even if Twin Oaks received the maximum for its 31 beds – or $260,000 a year – it was not nearly enough for the small home to recoup its losses. In order to break even, they would have to expand the size of the operation for one – but the subsidy specifically cannot be used for land or building purchases.

The licence for the 31 beds has been sold, but Link could not disclose the buyer. The transfer of the license still has to be approved by the government, though, before the next steps can be taken. One of the stipulations of the sale, says Link, is that the residents of the Twin Oaks of Maryhill will be able to move to the new facility, once construction is completed in Kitchener. Staff too are being considered on the move.

“I understand where the government comes from,” said Link. “We want nothing but the best for our geriatric population. But then what they need to do, and which they have failed to do in this situation, is help the smaller nursing homes with the funding, because I have always believed that the smaller nursing homes are more quaint.

“So I find that it’s a little frustrating that the government didn’t step up a little more for the smaller homes and say, ‘Hey look, we want to keep you, we really do want smaller, rural homes to exist, because they have a place in our society.’ But they just weren’t going to do that.”

Still, Link looks at the closure of Twin Oaks in a positive light. He notes that while the residents will  be leaving behind the scenic village of Maryhill, they will getting quarters in brand new buildings, built to the latest standards and offering the highest levels of care available.

How those, and other, housing opportunities can be brought into the townships, and expanded on for its growing seniors’ population, remains to be seen.