The business of ethnic eldercare in Mississauga

Demand for specialized long-term elder care facilities like the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care is growing rapidly, but financial challenges are preventing new spaces from opening up.

With the number of elder Canadians set to rise in the next five-to-ten years, demand for geriatric care, long-term care and palliative care facilities will stretch beyond current capacity and push resources to their limits.

The Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care is trying to a different approach to elder care, but facing just as many financial challenges in serving residents and trying to fill growing demand for its services.

Started in 1994, the organization is comprised of four residential living communities for senior citizens, primarily of Chinese descent. Yee Hong opened its 200-bed location on Mavis Road in October 2003. While half of the beds are allocated to Chinese residents and one bed is set aside for short-term stays, it also currently has Vietnamese, Arabic, Portuguese and Filipino occupants.

In addition to day programs and a specialized Alzheimer unit, Yee Hong Centres offer around-the-clock nursing services, culturally specific dietary programs and event planning, as well as linguistic proficiency among its staff of nurses and personal support workers.

Word has spread among ethnic communities. Yee Hong spokesperson Anna Victoria Wong said the average wait is more than 10 years for a spot in the organization’s long-term care facilities. Inquiries for Mississauga’s beds come from as far as Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo.

“It is a known fact that a lot of our waiting list applicants don’t make the wait or some of them go into crisis,” Wong said. “Where they go into stroke or very serious cognitive or physical impairment.”

Even those looking for a temporary stay are resigned to wait, as Mississauga’s short-term bed is booked well into next year.

While there is more than enough demand for Yee Hong to expand, Wong said the recent re-evaluation of healthcare dollars allocated to long-term care facilities by the Ontario Ministry of Health means the organization will struggle to recruit to new staff with the language skills needed.

Adding to the financial shortfall is the recent decline in dollars from fundraising and donors following the 2008 financial crisis.

“It may affect client care but we’ll do our best to not go there,” Wong said. “We are cognizant of the sorely unmet needs of the community, but we also have to be responsible for our funders as well.”

Executive director Maureen Lynn estimated the Mississauga Centre currently has 40-50 volunteers on a regular basis for its group and individual programs.

After nearly 10 years working at the Mississauga Centre, Lynne has seen a serious rise in the number of late octogenarians and early nonagenarians entering the facility with undiagnosed dementia. She expects this trend to continue, resulting in facilities like hers desperately requiring more staff trained in aspects of elder care despite a declining enrolment in those healthcare programs.

“With the aging population, there is going to be a huge demand for specialized training in geriatrics and especially psychogeriatrics, understanding the deterioration of the brain and aging.” Lynn said. “Alzheimer’s can happen to somebody in their 60s and advance really quickly.”

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