August 30, 2011 | News

Hailed as a first of its kind in the world, a new long-term care facility where researchers will work side by side with elderly residents will soon rise out of a pasture on the University of Waterloo’s northwestern edge.

The $30-million, 192-bed facility — a partnership involving the province, retirement residence owner Schlegel Villages, UW and Conestoga College — will be a “living classroom” where students can train and gerontological experts can research better care for seniors.

It’s the first phase of a three-phase project, with a health-care centre, and an assisted living and independent living addition to be built later. Each will cost about $50 million, for a total project construction cost of about $130 million.

It’s believed this kind of “teaching hospital”-style seniors’ facility, to be run by the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, has never been built before. The centre will be built on university land near the Laurel Creek Conservation Area.

Ron Schlegel, the man whose donation of $6 million in 2005 created the Research Institute for Aging, and whose family is contributing another $48 million to this new expansion, said the primary goal is dealing with the demographic time bomb he called an “aging tsunami.” The number of seniors in Ontario is expected to double within 20 years.

“As far as we know, this will be a world-leading centre. Now it’s a matter of growing it and making it known around the world that we have answers,” he said. “What’s learned here will be shared across Ontario and beyond.”

Schlegel’s privately held Schlegel Villages operates long-term care facilities in a number of Ontario communities, including the Village of Winston Park in Kitchener. He hopes the research from this new project will help get more seniors out of hospitals and long-term care facilities and into community-based care or allow them to live longer in their own homes.

Those kinds of alternatives can save governments money and give the elderly a better quality of life, he said.

The province is contributing $20 million toward the long-term care home’s construction, with Schlegel Villages investing the remainder of the cost.

The Schlegel family will also contribute $3 million to the capital costs of the learning, research and innovation centre, and the province is contributing $625,000 a year for curriculum and to disseminate research conducted at the centre.

It’s expected that the work done at the new facility will help direct the province’s policies around elderly care.

“We can’t do business as usual anymore,” said Leeanna Pendergast, the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga who has spent years lobbying for the centre. “Just throwing more long-term beds at the problem is not the solution.”

As part of the project, the Schlegel family is providing $45 million over 20 years to fund 14 research chairs in aging at UW, where they’re already studying such things as brain health, elderly nutrition and geriatric medicine, and Conestoga College, for the study of enhanced senior care. Four chairs at UW and the chair at Conestoga College have already been established.

Conestoga College will also establish a satellite campus at the centre, where students will get hands-on training with the elderly.

Feridun Hamdullahpur, the university’s president, called the new centre a critical milestone in his institution’s history. Canada’s aging population will put major pressures on our health care system, and UW is eager to help find some solutions, he said.

“This is a huge challenge. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and if left unattended, it’s going to come back and really cripple our society,” he said.

Residents will apply for a bed at the yet-to-be built facility through the province’s Community Care Access Centre, as if it were any other nursing home. They’ll pay similar rates, too.

Although it will be a research and teaching facility, improving residents’ quality of life and care will be the priority, said Mike Sharratt, executive director of the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging.

All residents or their families will need to give consent to be part of research projects, he said.

“They won’t be guinea pigs,” Sharratt said.

Instead, residents will get access to cutting-edge care, highly trained staff and expertise all under one roof, he said.

“We’ve already been doing this work for years. This is just a catalyst for something much bigger … We want to change the whole system,” he said.

Construction on the 192-bed facility is to begin in late 2012 and be finished by late spring 2014.

This article originally appeared online at–seniors-facility-will-be-a-living-classroom, written by Greg Mercer, Record Staff