HavenGroup Celebrates 75 Years of Senior Care

By Doris Penner

The HavenGroup organization in Steinbach, Man., had its beginnings 75 years ago, caring for six clients in an old “invalid home” on Hanover Street. Today, the organization is poised to open its doors to a new 143-bed facility for seniors who need nursing care. In addition, it provides suites for 400 more seniors in five residences.

With the new Rest Haven Care Home nearing completion, CEO David Driedger reflects on a decade of work and planning that has brought them to this point. When the building project was finally approved by the Manitoba department of health and seniors care in 2019 and construction had begun, COVID-19 hit, but for Driedger this is just a blip in the grand scheme of things.

“We are nearing our goal for HavenGroup—to provide a continuum of care for seniors of our community from the time they move into a 55-plus apartment and live independently to the point where they need nursing care,” he says.

While the changes HavenGroup has undergone since its inception are dramatic, one thing that has not changed is its mission—to provide housing and personal care services in a Christ-centered community that promotes the dignity of seniors. This continues to guide their day-to-day practices and decisions for the future.

HavenGroup was started by five churches in the Evangelical Mennonite Conference who saw the need for a home that would provide services for older seniors with a chronic illness or dementia. In 1946, representatives from churches in Steinbach, Kleefeld, Blumenort, Landmark (Prairie Rose) and Rosenort formed a committee to find a suitable facility and formulate policy.

Within a month, the committee had purchased an invalid home with a 20-bed capacity in Steinbach for $10,000, including property and inventory. Maria Vogt who owned the facility was moving to Winnipeg—and with her went most of the residents. The six who remained became the first clientele of the Mennonite Invalid Home.

Operated as a ministry

“Right from the start, it was clear that the Home would be operated as a ministry of the church for the community, not merely as a business,” says Henry Klassen, who served as chair of HavenGroup’s board of directors for nine years, as well as interim CEO at one point. Care of the whole person would be emphasized—not only the physical, but also the spiritual and emotional.

The first order of business was hiring a matron who would take on the tremendous task of running the facility. A phone call in the dead of winter to Elizabeth Reimer (later Friesen) in Kleefeld, Man., with an invitation to help out for three weeks secured them the services of this plucky young farm woman who had taken a nursing course by correspondence. After one week of training with Vogt, she plunged into her role—and stayed for eight years.

Half a dozen young women were hired to cook, feed residents, heat water on the wood stove, wash linens, scrub the floors and keep a vegetable garden.

They had their work cut out for them, especially when the facility quickly filled up to its capacity of 20 beds, and 12 more rooms were added. Sewing circles from the churches stepped in to assist with mending, sewing curtains and supplying canned goods and butchered meat. An administrator was hired for maintenance, to keep records and help with male residents. Costs of running the home were kept moderate because of an abundance of volunteer labour.

Right from the start, spiritual care was worked into the fabric of the facility. Staff members conducted daily devotions and local pastors held Sunday morning services. Soon Rev. Jacob Dueck from Steinbach EMC took on the role of chaplaincy, serving for 25 years; this remained a volunteer part-time position until 1991 when it became paid work.

In 1960, the Rosenort church decided to build their own facility (Eventide) for seniors on the West Reserve, but crowding remained an issue at the facility on Hanover in Steinbach. The building was also fast becoming outdated. These two factors led to the construction of a new 60-bed personal care home on Kroeker Avenue which opened under the name Rest Haven Nursing Home. From 1964 to 1970 three more apartment complexes were constructed on the same property—Ashwood and Birchwood (both later sold to Eden East) as well as Cedarwood which serves as supportive housing.

Care costs subsidized

In 1973 Manitoba Health Services initiated a plan to subsidize personal care costs—this was welcome news since nursing care costs were escalating. However, with it came more stringent standards for care and building codes, which made the current building obsolete. By accepting government money, the churches feared they would be forced to give up Christian programming.

When health officials made it clear they were not interested in running the senior home, but simply wanted it to operate according to recommended standards, the churches resumed discussions with government for a new updated facility. EMC churches were responsible to pay for the land ($50,000) which, when divvied up among church members, would only come to “a few coffees less per month at Pete’s Inn” over the next five years, as one board member put it.

The new 60-bed facility on Woodhaven Avenue opened in 1984. It might seem short-sighted to ignore the opportunity to increase personal care homes at this juncture, but government files consistently showed the crush for nursing care beds would level off.

Certainly over the last few decades the need for nursing care comes at a later stage, and involves a smaller number of individuals aged 75 and older. Current thinking sees the importance of providing supports for seniors that will allow them to remain in their homes as long as possible. HavenGroup has recognized this trend and seeks to fill these needs in the facilities they operate for those aged 55-plus. This includes Parkview Apartments in the old Rest Haven building and Woodhaven Manor, attached to Rest Haven Care Home, making it convenient for a couple who may need different levels of care to live in proximity.

To include under one title the various entities owned and operated by the organization, the Rest Haven Nursing Home board of directors changed its name to HavenGroup in 2005. Currently eight churches have representation on the board of directors—Stony Brook Fellowship and Evangelical Fellowship Church in Steinbach, Ridgewood Church (near Giroux, Man.) and Heartland Community Church in Landmark have joined the original four churches in operating HavenGroup facilities.
Excitement is mounting among Rest Haven staff and residents for the move—early in 2022—into the new care home. The facility is designed to allow residents live in more intimate “households,” so it feels like home as much as possible, says CEO David Driedger.

Spiritual care, which includes conducting services as well as individual counselling and visitation, remains of prime importance. The enlarged chapel is part of an atrium on the main floor where Sunday worship services, Bible studies and hymn sings—involving a large slate of volunteers—will continue to be held as in the past.

For 75 years HavenGroup has faithfully listened to the plea of the writer in Psalm 71:9, Cast me not off in the time of old age—forsake me not when my strength fails.

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