The Westcoast Native Health Care Society wants to develop a 10-bed residential care facility in Tofino but is struggling to convince Island Health to fund the venture.
The society currently runs Rainbow Gardens, a residential care facility in Port Alberni, with funding from Island Health.
“The Westcoast Native Health Care Society run a wonderful facility in Port Alberni, they’re a great operator,” Island Health spokesperson Suzanne Germain told the Westerly.
“Simply because we have a very good provider who has an interest and have come to us with an ask, doesn’t mean to say: A: that we have the money to fund that ask or B: that if we had the money, that that would be our number one priority.”
She said Island Health must focus its limited budget on areas of greatest need.
“We plan where to expand, and where to contract services, based on demographics and right now we have no plans to expand our capacity in Tofino,” she said.
“The area of greatest need is, right now, the Nanaimo-Qualicum area. So, if we have $1 to put towards this, that’s probably the area it would go towards.”
She acknowledged Tofino is isolated and traveling to health services in Port Alberni or Nanaimo is not always feasible.
“There is an additional challenge with that, but it’s also really, really, challenging to operate a 10-bed facility, it’s just not big enough,” she said.
She added Island Health’s goal is to improve in-home care so that Tofino’s seniors can stay in town and in their own homes.
“Our goal, not only because it’s better but it certainly is less expensive, is to keep folks living in their homes for as long as possible,” she said. “Residential care should not be, and isn’t always, the best option for someone who is aging and might have some challenges…There are many other ways to provide support for services that allow folks to live at home for longer.”
She suggested individual care plans should be structured to allow patients to return home as soon as possible.
“The objective is not to have you sit in hospital, or sit in residential care, the objective is to do what we can to get you home,” she said. “It’s better for you and it’s better for the system.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly she was disappointed but not surprised by Island Health’s reluctance to fund a facility for Tofitian seniors.
“I wasn’t surprised because to my knowledge, Island Health has been sending a consistent message over the last years: they have limited resources themselves and cannot justify a small standalone facility,” she said.
“Health care is the biggest expense for British Columbia and the provincial government doesn’t want to increase Island Health’s budget. They would prefer to see reallocation of current spending.”
Osborne noted locals face several hurdles along the path to retirement in Tofino.
“Healthy aging requires adequate health and community services, appropriate housing, and good transportation options. It also requires strong family and social networks,” she said.
“Unfortunately, in small rural communities like ours, we simply don’t have access to all of the services that Island Health offers in larger centres, and we also know that we need better housing and transportation options.”
She said the district is pushing for improvements so that seniors can stay in their community.
“A healthy community is one with all ages and with strong intergenerational relationships. Seniors have so much to offer a community, from wisdom and knowledge to skills and expertise. One only has to look to our First Nations neighbours to understand what a critical role elders play in community development, raising children, and providing wisdom. It should be same in Tofino and Ucluelet,” she said.
“The West Coast has been pushing for a care facility because we want to keep our community members here, alongside their friends and family, an active part of the community, and we don’t want to see people have to leave because they can’t have specialized health care or accessibility needs met in their homes or in a specialized facility.”
She questioned whether Island Health’s idea of in-home care is adequate.
“It’s been suggested to us that improved at home services could help keep seniors in the community longer, but that’s been met with skepticism by some of the Tofino seniors I recently spoke with,” she said.
“I think successful home care would require a significant addition to the home care program currently offered by Island Health. While Island Health is currently in the midst of talks internally about how to better integrate health services and seniors care is part of the discussion, it’s going to take time. And I think that is really what frustrates me and other community members. Some of us feel like we’re on a hamster wheel with Island Health as they rename, rebrand, reorganize.”
Osborne noted that while district officials jump through the lobbying hoops, aging locals are leaving the community and younger locals are worrying about whether they’ll be able to retire in Tofino.
She encourages anyone with any opinions on the subject to bring their ideas forward.
“I would love to hear from local community members, seniors especially, about their thoughts and experiences,” she said. “The more I know about peoples’ experiences and needs, the better I can advocate for them, and the better I can help build partnerships and plan for Tofino’s future.”