The Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island is proposing a “home away from home” to be built at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.
The facility, to be named Jesse’s House, would provide accommodations near health-care services and remove the financial burden of accommodation costs for pregnant women and families who require close proximity to medical services, or require an extended hospital stay for medical treatments.
The foundation has served the Island since 1927.
“Our mission is to ensure that all Island families have access to the health care that they need, when and where they need it most,” said Veronica Carroll, foundation CEO, in her presentation to city council Monday, May 30.
The foundation operates Jeneece Place, a 10-bedroom facility in Victoria, and Qwalayu House, a similar facility in Campbell River. Annual total combined operating costs for both facilities are about $970,000, paid for solely by donations. The foundation does not rely on government funding.
“Thanks to the generosity of our donors … we are able to bring supports closer to home and help transform the lives of children and youths living with physical and mental health challenges,” Carroll said.
She said families across the Island find themselves in Nanaimo for health care. NRGH hosts one of the Island’s two neonatal intensive care units and paediatric clinical care. Nanaimo also hosts other community-based health care services such as dental and assessments. Pregnant women also relocate to Nanaimo from rural and remote communities as their due dates approach.
Jesse, for whom the proposed facility is named for, was a child born in Nanaimo prematurely at 29 weeks and was airlifted to Victoria where her family stayed at Jeneece Place for two weeks. Jesse was transferred to neonatal care at NRGH and later discharged and was at home only one week before she died unexpectedly at just six weeks old.
Jesse’s mother, a nurse at NRGH, discovered patients in Nanaimo had a much different experience than those who experienced the comfort and safety of Jeneece Place, Carroll said.
“Families at NRGH were struggling with the expense of hotels, taking buses and taxis across town to be with their children, or sleeping in their vehicles,” Carroll said.
Jesse’s family started Jesse’s Gift Foundation, which raises money to ease the burden for families whose children are receiving care at NRGH.
Carroll said the foundation sees evidence of improved health outcomes for families from across the Island when they have access to safe and affordable accommodation.
The Children’s Health Foundation has proposed Jesse’s House be built on the NRGH campus, but has yet to be granted formal approval from Island Health, with discussions in the preliminary stages. Carroll said the foundation hopes for fast-tracked permitting and waived fees, similar to the municipal support received by Qwalayu House and Jeneece House.
“While waiting for this resource to be developed, many families have struggled to receive the care they need,” Carroll said. “Knowing that there is a great need, we are keen to move this project forward as soon as possible.”
Several members of council expressed their support for the project, with Coun. Erin Hemmens saying she has friends who stayed at Jeneece Place and understands the value of the service.
Armstrong said it’s a worthwhile project and urged the foundation to present to the regional hospital board.