Exactly two years ago this week, 52 active and retired Sunshine Coast doctors called on the provincial health minister of the day to take immediate action to address the critical shortage of long-term care beds in the community. Capacity was the central issue and the strain on Sechelt Hospital was severe. The agreement announced earlier that year between a private company, Trellis, and Vancouver Coastal Health was not ideal, they acknowledged, but the 20 additional beds were urgently needed and the proposed facility that would replace Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge was at least a first step in the right direction. The community could not wait any longer.
The chronology of what came after reads almost like a farce.
In the spring of 2017, Trellis applied to the District of Sechelt for zoning and OCP amendments to build the 128-bed Silverstone Care Centre on Derby Road in West Sechelt. Ignoring the direct appeals of local doctors who had appeared before them as a delegation, Sechelt councillors refused to move the application forward – Darnelda Siegers being the sole exception – and opted instead to embark on a “spectrum of care” exercise that effectively put the project on ice.
In July, Trellis abandoned Sechelt and struck a deal with the Town of Gibsons to buy property on Shaw Road and build the facility there. Council was onboard and the zoning was in place, but the new NDP government in Victoria had different ideas and by fall the project was again in limbo.
Meanwhile, activists opposed to privately owned and operated health care facilities stepped up their pressure on the government to scrap the Trellis deal, while Coast doctors renewed their call for the minister, now Adrian Dix, to intervene and force VCH to act now. With elderly patients “languishing in acute care beds” at Sechelt Hospital, the situation, they said, was “more dire” than ever.
Then, in early February of this year, there appeared to be a breakthrough. Dix announced that “we’ve moved close to an agreement” between VCH, Trellis and shíshálh Nation to build the complex on band lands. Trellis, he said, would commit to hiring the current long-term care staff and VCH had been directed to ensure that they receive the same wages and benefits. Though it didn’t satisfy the organized opposition, it sounded like a fair compromise: Sechelt would get the new facility and workers would get some protections, with the added bonus that shíshálh Nation would be a direct participant.
Nine months later, nothing has happened. Some site clearing did take place on the band’s Tsawcome lands in Wilson Creek, but not a shovelful of dirt has been turned for construction. We have been trying to get answers about the delay, but the status of the project seems to be a private matter between Trellis and shíshálh Nation, neither of which is answerable to the public, who will however foot the bill.
The farce continues.