Land was bought in 2016 for a personal care home in Winnipeg. There’s still no sign of construction

After buying land for a new personal care home near Polo Park in Winnipeg eight years ago, the city’s health authority has a property with nothing to show for it.

In 2016, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spent $2.1 million on a three-acre parcel at 1476 Portage Ave.

The land was purchased in March, a month before the then NDP government was trounced in the 2016 provincial election.

The Progressive Conservatives made little progress on the project during their first several years in office, but in the summer of 2023, promised to build six new personal care homes, including one at 1476 Portage.

Just a few months later, the newly elected NDP government put the fate of that personal care home, and several other capital projects, in limbo, as it ordered a pause to review the province’s finances.

Jane Pogson said long waits for a personal care home bed, like the wait her 91-year-old mother is experiencing, could have been avoided. 

“We are an aging population. The steps should have been taken years ago, at least 10 years ago, and for whatever reason, governments, people in control didn’t take those steps sooner.”

The NDP announced in March that construction on a new personal care home in Lac du Bonnet would begin this year.

Two people, one standing at a podium and the other standing behind them, are pictured.
Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, right, and Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara, left, have committed to more health-care capital projects, but have accused the previous PC government of making promises it couldn’t deliver on. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

The government hasn’t cancelled the care home projects proposed by the Tories last year — 143 beds in Winnipeg’s Bridgwater neighbourhood, 60 beds in Arborg, 96 beds in Oakbank, 144 beds in Stonewall and 140 beds at 1476 Portage.

But the NDP hasn’t promised they’ll be built either.

1 care home build a year

The NDP’s 2024 budget commits to building four nursing homes, starting in Lac du Bonnet, followed by two in Winnipeg and one in rural Manitoba — but they haven’t said specifically where the latter three will be.

One home will be built a year, Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara told CBC News in an interview last month, before a blackout on government announcements due to the Tuxedo byelection began.

“All options are on the table when it comes to improving personal care home capacity for Manitobans,” Asagwara said.

The health minister accused the PCs of making promises in an election year they couldn’t keep, and said the NDP would employ a “strategic and thoughtful” approach to adding more beds.

  • Are you waiting for a personal care home bed? Email or call the confidential tip line at 204-788-3744.

PC seniors’ critic Derek Johnson said his party’s promises weren’t empty. Three of the six homes were approved by the Treasury Board and the other three homes got money to finalize their plans.

“Treasury Board knew what they were dealing with to make a good, educated decision,” he said.

He worries delays will further inflate the cost of these facilities. 

The Winnipeg Conservatory of Music currently leases 1476 Portage Ave. The conservatory declined to speak about the care home proposal.

Even if the province builds the proposed care homes there and in Bridgwater, the net number of new beds in Winnipeg would only be 22, according to a government briefing note CBC News obtained through a freedom of information request.

That’s because the city lost around 160 beds when Parkview Place, the site of one of Manitoba’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks, closed in 2022.

Sue Vovchuk, executive director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba, said Parkview’s closure had a “profound” impact on the sector because the residents had to find someplace else to live.

She said different housing models, such as supportive housing, in which people live in their own apartment but receive some assistance, have eased the demand for spaces at personal care homes.

Aging in place

But at the same time, Manitoba’s population is growing and aging. Vovchuk said there’s an increasing need for specialty beds for people with mental illness, younger adults and heavier patients.

Given these complexities, Vovchuk said it’s difficult to say how many beds will be needed.

“Are they the right kind of beds? And with the other housing options becoming available, what does the demand look like for a personal care home?”

A woman is seated in a wheelchair in a blue and white blouse.
Ann Ledwich is finding happiness in her family’s home. After a hospital stay and a brief stint at a personal care home, she’s been receiving 24/7 care services in her home. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Pogson has one particular home in mind for her mother, Ann Ledwich: Meadowood Manor.

The family has toured the St. Vital home, but since the facility is popular, the 91-year-old has been on the wait list for more than a year, and likely will be for several more months.

Ledwich’s previous experience with personal care homes has been limited. 

After a fractured hip resulted in a hospital stay, Ledwich, who has advanced dementia, was taken to the first available bed — a private facility with mice running in the halls, “filthy” conditions and beds without safety rails, Pogson said.

She took her mother out of the home within 24 hours.

“I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but I knew we had to do it. I couldn’t leave her in there,” Pogson said.

Now her dad, Rod, is paying for half-day home care for himself, as well as 24/7 private home care for his wife, whose mobility is restricted to a tilt wheelchair. The cost is around $400,000 a year. 

A woman is seated at a table, raising her left arm, while the other people at the table are seen chuckling.
A comment from Ledwich has her husband, Rod, right, and their health-care aides chuckling. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

While the cost is significant, it’s made aging in place a possibility for the seniors, both in their 90s. On a recent morning, they cracked wise at the dining room table about trips to Portugal and swimming at the pool. 

“We’re committed to making sure that they have the least trauma in the last years of their life and the most joy that they can have,” Pogson said.

It doesn’t mean every day is easy, she said, but this housing arrangement may offer a better choice than any institutionalized setting.

“Seeing my parents the way they are in this house is quite joyous for all of us,” she said.

“And so at this point, we don’t want them going anywhere.”