Co-op pitched as alternative to Trellis

A pair of social workers with experience in the health-care sector and close ties to the Sunshine Coast are floating the idea of a long-term care co-op for the Coast.

John Richmond and Paula Larrondo made their plans public with an opinion piece in The Tyee late last month.

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“We hope to work with the Sunshine Coast community to stop a proposed for-profit long-term care facility and replace it with a co-operative model,” Richmond and Larrondo wrote.

The two also suggested that there are clear failings with for-profit long-term care and issues with non-profit facilities as well. “Residents of such facilities can have their own concerns with, for example, the dilapidated state of physical facilities, overcrowding and lack of cleanliness, and the challenge of raising complaints within a big bureaucracy.”

Larrondo and Richmond told Coast Reporter that they’ve been working on a better way to deliver seniors care throughout most of their careers, but the combination of the impact of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and concerns with having a new private, for-profit, facility on the Coast made this an opportune time to go public.

“When the Trellis proposal came along, a number of my family members were outspoken opponents, and some of my neighbours as well, and I shared their concerns,” Richmond said. “I prefer to try to propose alternatives or new ideas rather than necessarily always oppose something.”

“I think COVID, this tragedy, has really highlighted that there’s going to be an expectation of people to want to see major changes in the way that elder care is delivered,” Larrondo said.

Richmond and Larrondo also point to the report from B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie from earlier this year that found a significant difference in the amount of direct care hours delivered by not-for-profit and for-profit long-term care facilities.

“We understand the reason that eldercare has been downloaded to private companies. That takes financial pressures off governments, but we also understand the impact that actually has on the care,” Larrondo said.

“John and I have spent our whole careers talking about these issues and we wanted to see how can start something with the idea to be a little bit different and to deliver more respectful care.”

“With a long-term care facility or assisted living for seniors the key stakeholders are the residents themselves, the people who live there, the families, as well as the community,” Richmond said. “Our model brings all those stakeholder groups together in the governance and running of the organization.”

Richmond said if the proposed co-op goes forward it would likely try to establish a contractual relationship with Vancouver Coastal Health to deliver services.

“That’s how the health-care cooperatives in Saskatchewan and Quebec, the two jurisdictions in Canada that have the most health care cooperatives, [operate]. They’re contracting with the local health authorities or with the ministry of health directly… We would have the same relationship that a not-for-profit or for-profit long-term care facility would have with the health authority.”

Richmond and Larrondo said the reaction to their piece in The Tyee has been very positive and the next step is to create an organization to spearhead the project. “That’s priority number one,” Richmond said. “Then we have to reach out to anybody and everybody who might be interested in this on the Coast and connect with them and hear from them as to what they’d like to see… I think that’s at least a month or two of work.”

After that the group would bring in some professional help to draft possible working models for the co-op and start working with the health authority and potential funders and looking for a suitable location.

“The all-important piece in this is where the Trellis project is at, and what’s happening with that,” Richmond added.

While the co-op Richmond and Larrondo are proposing is meant to be an alternative to the Trellis project, it does not have the endorsement of Protect Public Health Care Sunshine Coast (PPHCSC), the group that’s been most vocal in its opposition to Trellis or any privately owned facility replacing the existing publicly owned and operated facilities at Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge.

“Our fight is about preserving public care on the Sunshine Coast,” Ian McLatchie of PPHCSC said in an email.

“If the Trellis deal were to go ahead it would be the first time that a health authority actually took away the public option and handed sole responsibility for long-term care delivery to a private operator. We can’t allow that to happen, and whether the operator is a for-profit or non-profit concern is not the issue,” McLatchie said.

“Secure, publicly owned and operated health care is a fundamental right and we will not allow it to be taken away.”

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