Almost 20 years after the need for a health centre in District 69 was formally recognized, ground was broken in Parksville last month, but there are questions still being asked.
A 2001 Central Vancouver Island Health Region report said the need for improved and additional health care services had been recognized as early as 1994, with some references going back to the 1970s.
That report, by the precursor to the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), was supported by Parksville, Qualicum Beach and the Regional District of Nanaimo and has become a touchstone, especially for critics of the current process.
In 2005, a follow up report by physician Tom Dorran called for an increase in inpatient beds over the 2001 study.
The push became more organized in 2008 from the Oceanside Primary Health Care Task Force, made up of local doctors and politicians and then the formation of the Federation of Oceanside Residents Associations (FORA) to pressure VIHA.
In early 2009, VIHA sent out a call for expressions of interest to build and operate a facility, kicking off the current process. It didn’t call for inpatient beds. From that first formal step it took a year for a request for proposals and then another year to choose the contractor.
The Lark Group, part of Stanford Place Holdings, was selected to build a new health centre. The Trillium Lodge site in Parksville was named as the location in January 2011.
Through 2011 there was a lot of optimism, with various officials promising work would start soon, including premier Christy Clark on a visit to Qualicum Beach, saying she hoped it would start by September 2011.
The summer’s optimism was fading through the winter with no word coming from VIHA until the surprise ground breaking on Jan. 27, 2012.
“This is a major milestone for this long-awaited project,” said Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, credited with keeping the government’s attention on it.
“You said you wanted us to ‘do it now’,” he said in reference to a FORA petition in early 2009, “well we’ll do it today!”
“We’re just listening to the community — they want to be cared for as close to home as possible,” said VIHA president and CEO Howard Waldner. “[It] will bring new and existing health services together under one roof for added convenience for patients… and will offer improved care coordination and a single, state-of-the-art electronic health record that will place complete information at the fingertips of the health care team, ensuring a focus not only on immediate care needs, but also on longer term health promotion and disease management.”
Regional district chair Joe Stanhope said “The new facility and its associated services will improve access to health care services and overall care co-ordination for Oceanside residents for decades to come.”
But the critics aren’t convinced and are still calling for the 2001 recommendations, focusing on the lack of inpatient services as proof the current proposal is just “a medical clinic with some claimed ability to deal with urgent care for two thirds of the day,” as critic John Olsen has said.
The 2001 report called for 45 inpatient beds for short-stay assessment, convalescence and palliative care, which everyone from the health care task force to local politicians to FORA representing 20,000-plus members, said was a minimum at the start of the current process.
In the last couple years some organizations, including FORA, accepted that there simply wouldn’t be inpatient beds, and said it’s better to take what the area can get and keep pushing for more in the future, rather than risk getting nothing.
“This is not what the community asked for, and how would they know, there were no surveys or public consultation,” said Rick Sullivan, a local social activist. “It doesn’t have beds, an emergency room, it’s not open 24/7.”
Other local politicians agree and say the entire process is flawed.
“Two proposals were received and considered in secrecy by VIHA. There was no public review or discussion whatsoever,” local NDP candidate Barry Avis recently wrote to The News.
“Local doctors were not consulted
either in the preparation of the ‘request for proposals’ or in consideration of the proposals.”
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser went even further: “I think we need an investigation into how we got to this point without public tendering, VIHA is just shifting the cost back onto the local taxpayers and we’re not getting any new services.”
There are also ongoing questions about the private-public model with Stanford Holdings originally chosen to build and run the facility, then shifting mid-process to The Lark Group (half of Stanford Holdings) only building it, with VIHA owning and running it.
George Lupton, a member of the Arrowsmith Rest Home Society that submitted the only other proposal, doesn’t see the benefit to the community and stresses that it’s not just “sour grapes,” but he doesn’t think the facility will add anything new.
“Nothing is being gained except centralization, the $450,000 in VIHA leases is being taken out of the community,” he said, drawing on 25 years experience as a hospital administrator.
“Public money is going to a private facility, on public land, not currently subject to taxes.”
Retired Qualicum Beach doctor Peter Quily, who for the last decade has been lobbying various governments and health agencies for more service here, said this is only a first step and people should not stop fighting for more. Despite his many years in the fight, he remains upbeat and pleased the new centre is finally happening.
“Obviously it’s taken too long,” he said. “This health centre will also be an attempt to follow patients and keep them healthy, rather than wait for them to start showing up in emergency rooms.”
Quily added VIHA, as a gatekeeper of health care, is often the target of people’s attacks, but he added Waldner is personally involved in the project. Quily wonders, since this is the case, why would VIHA want a centre that doesn’t work.
For him, a larger issue does remain — that of unfunded, long-term and palliative care beds in Oceanside. The beds are already here, Quily said, and must be fought for in future provincial and facility budgets.
Quily’s first-step attitude is shared by FORA spokesperson Tom Davies, a passionate speaker and proponent of the centre. He too agrees this is the beginning to expanding care services here.
Local municipalities, too, are on board.
Parksville councillor Bill Neufeld is a supporter, who says a small hospital here just won’t work. He said he would rather see paramedics, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals trained in advanced life support, before a tiny, inadequate hospital based on outdated models.
In the meantime, the centre is scheduled to open by June 2013 with 10 additional health practitioners to compliment the current 36 in the area. Waldner said health practitioners include nurse practitioners and dentists, and more.