First it was going to be Sechelt, then Gibsons – now it looks like the Trellis long-term care facility for the Sunshine Coast will be located on shíshálh Nation lands.
“We’re confirming that we’ve moved close to an agreement,” Health Minister Adrian Dix told Coast Reporter late Wednesday.
The agreement between Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), Trellis Seniors Services and the shíshálh Nation would see the facility built on Nation lands, but Dix could not confirm the exact location or any details about whether the shíshálh Nation would lease or sell the land.
“It’s our expectation that construction will commence in time for completion in late 2019,” Dix said. “When open, it will bring 20 additional beds to the Coast and more care for seniors in the community. We’re very appreciative of Chief Warren Paull and all the team at the shíshálh Nation who worked with Trellis and Vancouver Coastal Health in locating beds.”
VCH and Trellis first signed a contract for a new facility in June 2016. The original agreement called for it to be built on a lot on Derby Road in Sechelt. Faced with delays in getting the needed approvals, Trellis signed a deal with Gibsons last summer to buy Town-owned land that was already zoned for health care facilities. Organized community opposition and a change in government left the project in limbo.
Over the past two months Dix has received letters from Protect Public Health Care saying, “Our community has spoken clearly in favour of public care and will regard the continued involvement of Trellis as a betrayal of our interests,” from the doctors of the Sunshine Coast Division of Family Practice telling him the “contract should be implemented now to ensure an immediate build,” and from the Town of Gibsons calling for the facility to be at the Gibsons location.
Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge are still slated for closure, and Dix said the fate of those employees was one of the government’s major concerns. “I’m also very pleased that the concerns of employees have been heard with Trellis committing the current staff will be brought on at the new facility. I’ve also made it clear to Vancouver Coastal Health that my expectation is that this happens with the same wages and benefits that are provided to those staff now.”
Dix calls that commitment a significant change, considering the number of jobs impacted in relation to the size of the community.
Dix also acknowledged the issue raised by groups like Protect Public Health Care, which is opposed to having a privately run facility replace two publicly owned and operated institutions.
“The decision to proceed with publicly funded beds in a private facility was a decision that was made in 2016. It was an agreement between Vancouver Coastal Health, effectively the province of B.C., and Trellis… One can reflect on whether that was the right thing or the wrong thing, but it is an agreement.
“People may feel that there was an option available for the province of B.C. and Vancouver Coastal Health to tear up agreements that had been made in good faith, but that wasn’t possible or realistic in any way.”
The 20 extra beds is still short of the need expressed by the Division of Family Practice, and it’s been suggested a renovation of Shorncliffe might be in the cards after the new facility opens. Dix said the government has nothing to announce right now. “It’s obviously not the end of the story and we’re going to continue to work with the community to try and ensure services for seniors are at the level they need to be.”
Dix also readily acknowledges that this might not be the end of the story when it comes to opposition to the project.
“Not everybody’s going to be happy… I think most people wanted us to proceed. Most people wanted to see the care home built as soon as possible. Most people will like the fact that we will be able to deliver the service in Sechelt. Most people will like the fact that we’ve taken steps to support workers who’ve given so much to seniors care in Sechelt,” Dix said. “I don’t want to abandon the possible and the good in pursuit of the perfect. I’m hopeful that people will see that.”