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The early days of Tendercare Nursing Home

The home was one of the first to be accredited by the Canadian Council on Hospital Accreditation
Tendercare Nursing Home (2)

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

In the early 1970s, the need for more nursing home beds in the city became urgent.

The reason for this could be attributed in part to the increase in age expectancy for people but it also meant that people needed more nursing care than family members could easily provide.

Several new developments were being planned at the same time. In 1972 the Tendercare Nursing Homes group proposed a new development that they wanted to build on a 3-acre site located between Pine Street and Elizabeth Street adjacent to the CPR railway tracks. The proposal included access by a driveway from Pine Street with a smaller emergency exit onto Elizabeth Street.

The 121- bed project had already received approval from the Ontario Hospital Services Commission (OHSC). During this time, nursing home care was coming under the provincial health plan so OHSC approval was required for any new projects.

When the project was presented to the Sault and Area Planning Board for rezoning, they recommended that City Council approve the project with the condition that the Tendercare Nursing Home project include the construction of a street connecting Pine and Elizabeth Streets instead of a driveway into the complex.

The city had plans to expand development to the north of the proposed site for the new nursing home and it was felt that a street was a better option for future development in this area. This condition meant that costs would be increased for the Tendercare group, who would be expected to pay fifty per cent of the service costs for this new road.

Plans for this site were abandoned when they were unable to get mortgage financing from Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation. City zoning regulations required a rear yard of 25 feet but CMHC required 75 feet from the edge of the railway right of way.

Despite the great need for nursing home beds, it became obvious that this was not the right site for this development. The Tendercare Nursing Homes Group returned with a new location for their project in March of 1973 when plans were announced for a new 150-bed nursing home to be built on Highway 17 adjacent to the OPP Detachment.

The land for this new site was part of the F.J. Davey Home for the Aged property and was severed for the project. James Kelleher, lawyer for the Tendercare Group explained that there would be a covenant in the deed specifying that the site could only be used for a nursing home and if construction did not commence within a year, the property would revert to the Davey Home.

Surveys done at the time estimated that at least 135 people were waiting for nursing home beds between Sault Ste. Marie and Massey alone and Medical Officer of Health, Dr. J. D. A. Burns was quick to explain that this was probably a low estimate and didn’t accurately reflect the number of people still in their homes that needed a higher level of nursing care.

“We need additional facilities for extended care patients in Sault Ste. Marie. It is one of the most serious deficiencies in the community,” explained Dr. Chris Doherty, Medical Director for the General Hospital.

The new nursing home was planned to be a single-storey structure with 10 single rooms, 26 semiprivate rooms, and 22 four bed units and was estimated to cost about $1.5 million.

The Tendercare Nursing Homes Group was comprised of a group of doctors including Dr. W.E. Sullivan, Dr. L. Lukenda and Dr. C.J. Doherty who financed the project but took no active role in its operation.

After a long winding journey, Tendercare Nursing Home was to open its doors to accept the first residents on April 1, 1974, but this date had to be delayed by a couple of weeks so that necessary construction work could be completed.

When it opened, the nursing home had a capacity of 120 beds and its features included gardens allowing residents to grow their own flowers and vegetables, a fireside lounge, beauty salon, and a terrace and patios.

It was a unique design that provided hospital facilities in a residential-style setting. This was a shift in thinking about how our seniors should be provided for in their later years, realizing that seniors’ homes needed to be less institutional and have a homey atmosphere.

This idea was clearly supported when in 1976, with both Tendercare and the new Van Daele Manor (also opened in 1974) functioning at full capacity, there was still a significant shortage of nursing home beds and both had long waiting lists for admittance.

Doug Thompson, Administrator of Tendercare Nursing Home, reflected that “the shortage of space doesn’t necessarily mean that more people need extended health care than before. . . Rather, it reflects changing attitudes of society. Nursing homes at one time had a stigma attached to them. . . People didn’t want to surrender relatives to bleak institutions, a description which fitted many nursing homes.”

Mr. Thompson also explained that changing family structures also played a role with both husbands and wives in the workplace making it more difficult to care for a relative that needed constant nursing care.

In December 1981, Tendercare Nursing Home became one of the first facilities in this area to receive accredited status. Earning this status meant that the nursing home had met the standards of operation and resident care established by the Canadian Council on Hospital Accreditation (CCHA).

They were examined on the organizational structure, environmental services, and care programs, emphasizing resident care, activity programs, and safety. This nursing home filled an urgent need for beds for those needing extended care.

In March 2013, the residents from Tendercare Nursing Home were transferred to Maple View Nursing Home, a brand new facility that had been built on Northern Avenue. This new facility was larger, brighter and met the current standards for long-term care homes.

All of the former Tendercare Nursing Home furnishings were donated to Habitat for Humanity by Lukenda Holdings. In January 2014, 40 years after it opened to patients, Tendercare Nursing Home was demolished, leaving an empty lot in front of the Great Northern Retirement Home.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here