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Winnipeg health centre completely transforms Alzheimer unit

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by Myron Love

Winnipeg’s Riverview Health Centre (RHC) officially broke ground in June on a $7.6-million project intended to transform the health centre’s 20-year-old Alzheimer dementia unit into a totally upgraded residential centre.
The Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg recently broke ground on a $7.6-million project intended to transform the health centre’s 20-year-old Alzheimer dementia unit into a totally upgraded residential centre. The general contractor for the Alzheimer Centre of Excellence project is Bockstael Construction and the architect is Verne Reimer Architecture, with Rodych Integrated Design.
The Riverview Health Centre in Winnipeg recently broke ground on a $7.6-million project intended to transform the health centre’s 20-year-old Alzheimer dementia unit into a totally upgraded residential centre. The general contractor for the Alzheimer Centre of Excellence project is Bockstael Construction and the architect is Verne Reimer Architecture, with Rodych Integrated Design. - Photo: VERNE REIMER ARCHITECTURE & RODYCH INTEGRATED DESIGN INC.

The new unit will include a 6,000-square-foot activity pavilion that will have recreational and therapeutic areas and year-round access to an outdoor courtyard.

The current facility, notes Sheldon Mindell, executive director of the Riverview Health Centre Foundation, is composed of four pods, each housing 15 residents.

Over the next two years the upgrade and expansion will leave the institution's 60 beds divided into smaller five-person units to create a more manageable and family-oriented environment for the residents.

"The first challenge was the relocation of 15 Alzheimer/dementia residents who would not be able to live amongst the ongoing construction," says Mindell.

That challenge was overcome when the RHC negotiated an agreement with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to reclassify 15 of RHC's personal care home beds into 15 Alzheimer/dementia beds during the construction period. Only the first 15 residents will have to move to a different area of the health centre; the other 45 residents will simply move from within one section of the Alzheimer's/dementia building to another once the renovatations are complete.

Project manager Cindy Rodych, of Rodych Integrated Design, highlighted some of the changes that the new facility will incorporate. There will be less focus on locked areas within a wider secure perimeter and the creation of smaller family-sized units. With these changes will be the development of a new resident care model for both staff and residents.

Other changes will be a focus on lighting that replicates the body's natural rhythm which should alleviate "sundowning," a problem for dementia sufferers who get restless after dark instead of wanting to sleep, Rodych explains.

"We have photographers taking pictures of front doors throughout Winnipeg that we can superimpose on residents' doors to make it easier for them to differentiate their rooms within the facility reinforcing the notion that their room represents their home," she says.

"We will introduce a new patient-tracking system using waterproof bracelets or anklets with an 18-month battery life so that residents can move around more freely without the fear of being lost. The system will also alert staff should residents known to have aggressive tendencies be getting too close to each other."

There will be recorded messages in residents' bathrooms to cue them to remember daily routines. A variety of music will be played in each residents' room that acknowledges they have moved from one room to another as a means of assisting recognition.

Riverview originally commissioned a study in 2014 to research best practices when it comes to making a home for the most severe sufferers of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Based on that research, Riverview reached out to the Riverview Health Centre Foundation to fully fund the expansion project through donations. To date, $6 million has been raised, including $4 million from philanthropist Paul Albrechtsen, for whom the centre's activity pavilion will be named after.

The general contractor for the Alzheimer Centre of Excellence project is Bockstael Construction and the architect is Verne Reimer Architecture. The finished project will be a wood frame facility with brick exterior and photovoltaic panels that will create a net zero environmental footprint.

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