But before I tell you about my tour, first you need to understand where nursing homes (also known as long-term care facilities), fit in among different types of accommodation. If you can no longer live on your own but need just a little bit of help with daily activities, then you should be looking at a retirement home, not a nursing home. Retirement homes are privately run and you generally pay the full cost. In contrast, the public nursing home system provides help for seniors who are more frail and need a lot of nursing-type assistance.
The new third option blends retirement homes with nursing homes. An increasing number of retirement homes are privately offering many of the services traditionally provided by the public nursing home system. This new service might provide you with a higher level of personal care, but you pay the full cost yourself and it’s not cheap. Which one is right for you or your loved one? Read on to find out.
Public nursing homes
To see first-hand what a nursing home is like these days, I visited the 133-resident Northridge Long Term Care Centre in Oakville, Ont. There I found cozy units, bright carpeted hallways and comfortable sitting rooms. I was surprised that the facility seemed much more “home like” and less institutional than I had imagined. Many units have glass-encased “memory boxes” of family pictures posted by the doors to their units. Residents with similar needs are located together in “houses” of 20 to 30 residents, each with dedicated staff. There is a physiotherapy room and a hair salon, where a hair stylist is busy giving a perm. A couple of cats wander the halls and there are guinea pigs and rabbits for the residents too.
Nursing home operators include non-profits, municipalities, and private companies (like Revera Inc. which runs Northridge). But whoever runs them, the facilities are licensed, controlled, and partially funded by provincial governments. This is typically backed up by provincial inspections with publicly disclosed results. Admissions are determined by regional or provincial public authorities based on need, and long waiting lists are common.
In general, the maximum price for such homes in Ontario is $2,162 per month, and most other provinces are at or below that cap. That puts the public option within reach of many middle-class Canadians. But if you can’t afford that, you’re not turned away. You pay no more than what the government thinks you can afford, although in some provinces, that may mean turning over your government pension cheques and retaining only a modest “comfort allowance.”
Private retirement homes
Retirement homes provide accommodation to seniors who are healthier than those at nursing homes but aren’t comfortable living on their own. These relatively active seniors enjoy the friendship and social engagement of other seniors of similar ability. Make no mistake, this is the better choice if you don’t need a nursing home level of care.
Seniors typically rent their own apartments, but receive housekeeping, laundry and meals with other residents in a common dining room. If that’s all the help they need, it’s called “independent living.” If a resident also needs assistance with things like dressing, bathing or taking medicine, it’s called “assisted living” or “enhanced living.” In either case, such retirement homes typically offer a full schedule of activities including bus outings, exercise classes, and other social activities. High-end homes might offer fine dining by professional chefs, on-site British pubs, equipment-filled exercise rooms and swimming pools.