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Ucluelet questions housing and parking as new medical centre announced

Ucluelet has long-awaited appointment with new medical centre as Island Health commits to community
This rendering shows what a new medical clinic facility coming to Ucluelet will look like at 2094 Peninsula Road. (Ucluelet council agenda image)

Ucluelet has a long-awaited appointment with a new medical centre.

Cheers echoed across the community last week as Island Health announced a 10-year lease for a new clinic facility set to be built at 2094 Peninsula Road that, once completed, will serve as a hub for community-based and primary care services.

“The District of Ucluelet is very fortunate to have Island Health facilitate the build of a primary and community care centre in Ucluelet. This new clinic space has been on our wish list for over a decade, and our local physicians as well as travelling specialists will very much enjoy working in a beautiful new building,” Ucluelet mayor Marilyn McEwen said through the announcement. “Community Health, Primary Care and Mental Health remain high priorities for this council, including assistance for ageing in place, which this new facility will certainly provide through optimum health care for all ages.”

Ucluelet has long been clamouring for a medical centre and the urge became louder in 2022 when the town’s only clinic, headed by Dr. Carrie Marshall, faced being shut down over financial constraints.

Marshall, a local family physician, said in the announcement that she and her fellow physicians were excited to see Island Health’s approval of a new primary and community care health centre in Ucluelet.

“This is an important, collaborative step between physicians and Island Health to expand team-based primary care services to residents of Ucluelet, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (Ucluelet First Nation), and surrounding areas,” she said. “We look forward to partnering with Island Health on developing this critical piece of primary care infrastructure for the West Coast.”

Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne said the new clinic will be a vital resource for the region.

“Having a purpose-built centre in Ucluelet to provide integrated health services for the people is a huge benefit for people not only living in Ucluelet, but also Macoah, Millstream and Hitacu,” Osborne said. “This new facility will make it easier for residents and patients to access the quality health care they need, and it will also support physicians, allied care providers, and staff who will use the hub. The centre is incredibly welcome news for the fast growing West Coast region.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health Jennifer Rice echoed Osborne’s excitement around responding to Ucluelet’s rapid growth.

“Ucluelet is a growing community and with that comes growing health care needs. This new centre will help meet those demands and will make primary care services easily accessible to residents of Ucluelet and the surrounding areas. This will help strengthen health care services for the entire region,” Rice said.

Island Health’s announcement explains that the centre will be a home to regional community-based services, including Community Health Services, Mental Health and Substance Use and Public Health.

“The people living in Ucluelet and surrounding areas will have improved contact, collaboration and communications with their health care providers through this new health centre,” said Minister of Health Adrian Dix. “The Ucluelet community care centre will provide a range of integrated health services, and build on the many things we are doing to improve access to primary care and strengthen our health care system across the province.”

The facility will include a lab and Island Health believes that the central location on Peninsula Road will help create easier connections to services and programs while promoting team-based care and communication between care providers.

“One of the challenges we face when working to expand health-care services in remote regions is finding appropriate clinical space to give our patients, clients, staff, and care providers the best experience possible,” said Island Health Board Chair Leah Hollins. “This long-term lease agreement should provide certainty to people living in the region and our partners that we are committed to growing primary care services through this centre for years to come.”

Ucluelet’s municipal council approved a development permit for the project during their Oct. 23, 2023, regular meeting and the facility is expected to open in the summer of 2025.

The developer will be responsible for all costs related to construction and development of the leased space.

During Oct. 23’s meeting, the district’s director of community planning Bruce Greig explained the facility would be a two-storey, roughly 1,000 sq. metre, primary care network clinic on Peninsula Road near the entrance of town near Forbes Road.

“It would contain a medical clinic, laboratory, mental health offices, counselling offices and other healthcare service space,” he said.

He added the building is designed to be fully accessible with an elevator located in the central ground floor area.

He said parking will be located at the front of the site and that the building largely conforms with the district’s guidelines.

“We’re recommending that council issue the permit in a nutshell,” Greig said. “The one thing is, ideally, you’d have your building facing the street and the parking wouldn’t be the thing that’s closest to the street, however it is a sloped site and that I can appreciate is a bit of a challenge, so they have really responded with some landscape enhancements and protecting some of the trees in the frontage.”

Rainforest Drive project

Coun. Mark Maftei expressed confusion around the new clinic’s location, noting that council had approved a medical clinic at a different site on the corner of Marine Drive and Rainforest Drive.

“It was my understanding that that was almost exactly the same scope and focus…It was going to be a mix of use and it was going to have medical clinic space,” Maftei said. “Explain to me, if you will, how this isn’t totally redundant. Is the building on Rainforest no longer going to serve that purpose?”

Greig responded that it is district staff’s understanding that the Rainforest Drive development no longer planned to include medical services.

“The developer of that site needed to come to an arrangement with Island Health,” Greig said, adding an RFP process was done and the Peninsula Road developer would be pursuing the construction of the clinic.

“There’s some limitations on what the building that’s under construction on Rainforest Drive can be used for because it had uses that were built into the zoning that, sort of, depended on there being a medical services office on the ground floor and, if not, well then some of the uses had to change,” he said.

Parking aesthetic

Coun. Ian Kennington said he loved the Peninsula Road building’s design, but did not like the parking being in the front.

“We already have a problem as you come into town where it’s a vast landscape of parking and concrete with buildings pushed to the back and everybody agrees that that’s less than ideal,” he said.

He said he was familiar with the sloped property and wondered if it was “totally necessary” to put the parking in the front and questioned the impact that would have on the entrance to town.

Greig suggested the decision likely came down to cost.

“I agree that having a parking lot on the street is never ideal,” Greig said, adding though that the zoning guidelines in the area are more automobile oriented with surrounding gas stations.

“It’s an excellent question of how does the entrance to town change and become better, not worse overtime. I think the details of how are you landscaping, how are you retaining trees, how are you managing the boulevard so that what is greeted from the street visually for someone who’s coming and making that first impression as they arrive in town isn’t, ‘Oh, a parking lot.’ That is not putting our best foot forward but, I think, there are some challenges with this site, likely having to do with the logistics of getting the parking further up and the cost associated with it.”

Kennington suggested the cost is a savings for the developer as opposed to the community.

“I’m all for the medical clinic. It’s fantastic. I would love to see it, but as you enter into town it’s always been a sore spot. You’re greeted by a pile of tires and you’re greeted by just endless, vast amounts of parking and there’s no intimacy,” he said. “When we talk about character, we have very few areas of influence where we can really decide how our town looks and feels and I think we need to be looking at how we can make things better as opposed to just saying, ‘Well it’s already ugly there, we’ll just make it ugly further.’ The building is absolutely beautiful. I love the building. I just really wish it was forward.”

Greig responded that Kennington’s concerns were valid and suggested he direct them to the applicant’s project manager, who was present at the meeting.

Darren Moss spoke on behalf of the applicant and suggested the team had tried to find ways to put the parking lot on the side or back of the site, but were unable to find a feasible plan due to the slope, so tried to remediate that the best they could with landscaping and tree retention.

“We heard loud and clear from planning at the start and we totally understand why you want to not just have a parking lot as you walk in, as you drive in, or as you ride in,” he said. “Ideally, I agree, the building should be at the front of the site with the parking lot at the back and you’d never see it. On this particular site that really didn’t work out to be an option for us.”

Housing for physicians

Coun. Jennifer Hoar asked if any accommodation would be included in the development.

“I’m thinking about visiting specialists who might access it and if there isn’t somewhere for them to stay then that becomes an issue. We all know that housing is an issue and places to stay,” she said.

Moss said there will be office space provided for visiting physicians.

“The intention is to try to provide space so they can stay in the region longer and carry out their day. There is office space for them, but not actual residences,” he said.

Maftei shared Hoar’s concerns around accommodation for physicians.

“Housing is certainly a huge challenge. That’s one of the things we’re seeing right now. We can’t attract and we can’t retain people,” he said.

McEwen said she has been working with Island Health on a potential medical centre for about nine years and housing has consistently been brought up.

“All the focus groups we had along the way always, always, always insisted that there be some sort of accommodation at the medical centre for visiting physicians, so to see that it’s not part of this is a bit disappointing,” she said.

Moss responded that Island Health’s RFP had not asked for housing to be included in the project, but said he would speak to his team and brainstorm ideas around the issue.

Hoar echoed the sentiment around accomodation being needed.

“There are a lot of specialists that don’t come out here anymore because there is nowhere for them to stay and now we have to go away to access some of that healthcare and that is an issue,” she said. “I love that there’s a building and there’s lots of office space, but if the people have nowhere to lay their head at night, will they even come out?”

Moss reiterated that he would speak with the site’s owner and his team about potential accommodation solutions.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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