Before she died, Madeline Nelner was still very independent. She was able to get around her hometown of Fort Simpson to frequent her regular spots: church, the coffee shop, the post office and visiting with loved ones.
For her son Dennis Nelner, it broke his heart when she had to seek long-term care in Yellowknife – several hours away by road, or an hour’s flight.
“It kept her away from Simpson for almost two years,” he says. “That was a big problem that she had because it kept her away from family and friends and things that she was used to.
“Those are very precious moments for elders.”
Now, two years after his mother’s death, Nelner is taking steps to solve that problem. He’s working towards converting his late mother’s family home into a long-term care facility (LTC) for Fort Simpson. The project is called Ama’s house: Madeline Nelner LTC Facility – ama meaning mother.
In a Facebook post introducing the project, Nelner says the home helps to fulfill his mother’s wish of offering her home for community service.
“Mom understood how it felt to leave home and the uncertainty of being away from loved ones due to lack of medical treatment in a small, rural Northern community,” he says. “Homeless, family and friends, anyone needing a safe place to stay would find themselves at her house. Mom’s door was always open, that was her way of helping people.”
Though Nelner is considering expanding the building, as it stands Ama’s house would have five beds for its residents, in addition to space for a live-in personal support worker or registered nurse for 24-hour care. Nelner says the building is in the middle of town so that residents can still be in close proximity to everything they rely on.
It’s important, he says, that the facility is entirely wheelchair accessible so that any person who uses a wheelchair can “function independently inside that facility.”
Fort Simpson does have an existing LTC facility, though it is often at capacity. It houses 17 residents and, to date, there are three people on the waiting list.
Damien Healy, a spokesperson with GNWT’s Health and Social Services, says that the project “is a positive step forward for the community of Fort Simpson, as this project will provide an option for seniors or persons with disabilities who require accessible housing options and supports. We look forward to working with Mr. Nelner and wish his project success.”
With all the design and upfront work laid out, Nelner says it’s now “just a matter of meeting the needs of CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), which is going to be our lead partner on this.
“I think we’re at a point now where we’ve met all the conditions, we checked off all the boxes, and we’re ready to submit a formal application,” he says. “If the funding is approved, we can start hopefully this year to get it off the ground.”
Following a presentation to the region’s wellness council and an online survey made available to the community, Nelner says “it’s been overwhelming support.”
If all goes as planned, Nelner sees his repurposing of his mother’s house as “a good investment into the North” that could be used as a template for other communities.
“Mine is going to be for long-term care but there could be homeless shelters or women’s shelters, things like that can be developed in other communities.” he says.
In next steps for developing Ama’s House LTC, Nelner is working with a business consultant to help navigate the many moving parts. He’s working on securing funding, meeting infrastructure requirements and partnering with social services to make the project a reality.
While he does not yet have a concrete timeline, Nelner hopes to honour his mother in opening the LTC facility some time next year.
“If you know a little bit about my mom, she has a long record of community service,” he says. “Everyone knows and loves my mom. She’s the one that’s selling it, not me.”