Council OKs rental discount for COVID assessment clinic

A Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) clinic established to assess people with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 has received the go-ahead from Sechelt council to operate at a public venue in the district at a discounted rental rate of $1,000 per month.

Council members voted to move ahead with the proposal at a Sept. 2 regular council meeting, in addition to invoicing VCH for set up and operating costs.

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As of Sept. 3 the venue had been transformed into a respiratory assessment clinic and is expected to run until the end of May 2021. VCH chose the site because it’s large and accessible, centrally located and easy to find, with ample parking, and close to Sechelt Hospital.

The District of Sechelt has asked media not to identify the site, saying VCH had made the request to avoid public walk-ins.

The same venue was used in the spring and moved back to Sechelt Hospital during the summer lull. The return to the district-owned site was made so that the clinic could offer longer hours and operate seven days a week, according to Sechelt communications manager Julie Rogers.

In the spring, no fees were charged since “the situation was urgent and unprecedented,” according to a Sechelt council staff report, but it recommended charging a rate this time because staff determined that waiving fees “does not align with good taxing ethics.”

“The health authority taxes citizens to prepare for emergencies like this one. The income taxes collected by the province should pay for the use of the [facility], not the property taxpayers of Sechelt,” said the report.

Rather than charging the regular commercial rate of $600 a day, staff recommended VCH pay a “nominal fee” of $1,000 per month to cover expenses and lost revenue.

In 2019 the site made approximately $2,000 in monthly rental revenue and rates increased in 2020.

After the pandemic hit, rental earnings dropped to $475 in June, $410 in July and $1,610 in August, according to Rogers, who noted the numbers aren’t final.

Coun. Matt McLean voted against the recommendation to charge $1,000 a month, describing it as “another example of the province downloading costs to us.”

“There is no reason why VCH cannot rent out a commercial space and do the exact same thing they are doing in our space. This doesn’t need to be a public facility,” he said.

He also noted that losing access to the space for the next six months also means losing out on “social culture,” even if there’s less of it during a pandemic.

Coun. Alton Toth acknowledged “there is some aspect of downloading,” but also said it was a “good opportunity to partner with VCH.” He also made a motion, which council passed, to revisit the agreement after the end of May 2021.

According to Rogers, Powell River recently agreed to provide a facility to free to the health authority.

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