It started off as a care centre for aging miners looking for respite and has grown to become the most important seniors care centre in the territory.
Avens, which first opened its doors in 1987, has been expanding ever since — offering a wide range of programming and a variety of types of residency for seniors.
“There is a misnomer about Avens, that we just offer extended care here,” said Daryl Dolynny, CEO of Avens. “Our campus has a wide range of residences from long term care to complete independence.”
The Avens campus is comprised of four large complexes, each providing different levels of care and a variety of services.
The Avens Manor is oldest building on campus. The Northern log cabin-style centre features 29 beds for long term care. Residents have access to round the clock care from nurses, food services and ample amounts of recreational programming. Currently there is no wait time for these facilities.
After the Manor came Avens Court. This housing facility offers subsidized housing for seniors. There are six pods which contain a total of 24 units. Avens acts as a landlord for these units and beyond maintenance and snow clearing, residents are completely independent. Currently, the wait list to get into the Manor is sitting at around eight to 10 years.
Avens also offers full market price housing for seniors in its Avens Ridge complex built 11 years ago. Three of the eight units are listed at market price while the others are subsidized.
The most recent addition is the dementia centre, or Avens Cottages. The facilities there are designed for higher needs dementia patients. The two cottages hold 14 beds each. Admission to the cottages are controlled by the Territorial Admissions Committee, who evaluates patients and places them at Avens based on need.
Increasing the variety of housing and number of long-term care beds in the territories is top of mind for Dolynny and the Avens board of directors.
“We know we need more housing options. In terms of long-term care alone, the territory is short around 270 beds,” Dolynny said. “The government is doing a lot right now to alleviate that but there still needs to be more options.”
Though there are no definite plans to further build any expansions on the Avens campus in the immediate future, the board of directors is currently assessing need in Yellowknife.
“The board is working to redraft the master plan of the Avens campus,” he said. “They are looking to redesign the campus in a way to expand housing options ”
In the meantime, Avens will be looking to improve already existing facilities and services, including an upgraded kitchen with improved food services and state of the art care for residents with dementia.
As a part of upgraded food services, the centre is working on a new project for residents with eating challenges that involves food moulds.
“There’s a lot of dignity involved with how people eat,” said Kathleen Hernder, registered dietitian with Avens.
“People don’t really want to eat mush or slop so we’ve begun freezing and thickening the pureed food into moulds so they actually resemble what is being served. There are only a few facilities that do this so we’re really getting ahead of the curve for nutrition.”
Avens has also had a lot of success with bringing traditional foods for residents in care. According to Hernder, a portion of residents come from smaller communities or have spent a large portion of their lives eating off the land, so they can have a hard time adjusting to the food in Yellowknife so Avens purchases traditional meats, such as whitefish and wild game.
“Recently our supplier Sisco has sent us a new list of their traditional meats,” Hernder said. “We also get some donations from hunters when we could, but now we’ll have a more consistent source, which will include whitefish from Great Slave at least once a week.”
Hernder says services like this improve the mental well being of residents as well as their nutritional intake.
“A large portion of residents will request it and it is important to get them foods they are familiar with. It plays into the quality of life and cultural sensitivity aspects.”
Cultural sensitivity is taken into consideration by staff at Avens, said Dolynny.
“We don’t just have Yellowknifers living here, we house and care for a wide range of people from different backgrounds from across the territory,” Dolynny said.
There are many residents from different Indigenous communities at Avens and according to Carol Norwegian, recreation and volunteer supervisor, sitting down and listening to residents about their culture is important to their well-being.
“All of our staff take the GNWT cultural awareness programs online and we also sit and talk with our residents regarding their heritage,” Norwegian said.
Dolynny spoke about implementing more tech-savvy programming at Avens. Currently, it is partnering with the University of Toronto to bringing in new technology and artificial intelligence to help treat residents with dementia.
“Studies have shown that the technology we’re looking to use can help people with dementia retain memories,” said Frances Bower, care supervisor. “You cannot cure dementia but you can help manage it.”
AI seal creature helps dementia patients
One program includes the use of artificial intelligence to interact with residents.
“The AI will be implemented into a robotic (seal-like creature). If they’re having upsetting treatment or experiences, the seal would be able to detect and respond to the emotions of the resident based on visual and auditory ques,” Bowes said.
Avens is also aiming to get funding to purchase iPads, so residents can record video and audio, or connect with family members. According to Bowes, this familiarity helps calm residents who experience anxiety during treatment.
Beyond having cutting edge technology, the main approach to care and life at Avens is that residents maintain their independence and ability to choose, which not every senior care facility has.
“We have the philosophy of choice,” Bowes said. “They don’t lose your ability to make decisions and can still have a fulfilling life without a lot of restrictions. They can make bad decisions if they want, just as you and I would. They sign forms that they understand risks they’re taking but they don’t lose independence.”