40-60 seniors care beds coming to Cowichan Valley

The Cowichan Valley will soon have 40-60 new and replacement residential care beds.

The Cowichan Valley will soon have 40-60 new and replacement residential care beds.

Although the precise number and how soon has yet to be determined, Island Health is calling for proposals.

The reason for the flexible number is that the plan is to take three wards worth of space from Cairnsmore Place Extended Care and use it for hospice beds.

That will mean that room must be found elsewhere for the residents whose rooms are being taken.

These additional beds represent a significant investment in seniors’ care by Island Health, according to Norm Peters, Island Health’s executive director for residential care.

Residential beds provide 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week care and support for people who can no longer live independently, including the frail and elderly, and those with dementia, whose needs may change over time.

The request for proposals is posted on the BC Bid website and is open until Sept. 30, 2016.

Island Health anticipates a contract will be awarded early in the new year, hoping for shovels in the ground by summer 2017 and the new beds opening in early 2019. There is a promise not to cut beds.

“That was a commitment we made to all communities as we increase hospice beds. If they are going into a residential care facility and they are using residential care beds, then we need to maintain the number of residential care beds in that community,” Peters said.

Does that mean building onto Cairnsmore, which is operated by Island Health?

The short answer is “no”, according to Peters.

“That would require us to have capital funding, which we don’t have for this project. That’s why we’re seeking proposals from residential care providers.”

The new beds may come in the form of a new facility. It will depend on what ideas are brought forward in the proposals.

“As part of this, we are increasing [overall Cowichan Valley] capacity by 40-60 beds. It could be a standalone facility, it could be added to an existing private facility. We don’t know yet,” Peters said.

The idea of shunting Cairnsmore residents to a private facility will, for many Valley people, raise the spectre of the closing of Cowichan Lodge, where a public facility was shuttered in favour of a new private facility, against the wishes of the public.

“That’s not the best example,” Peters said. “We’ve learned a lot from that. There is certainly a legacy of that transition that lives on. And for good reason.”

Local fury about the way the Cowichan Lodge closure was handled has meant that now Island Health must be more mindful about the impact of these decisions, he said.

“Firstly, we don’t surprise people. And we give a year’s notice. And we also have to give people choice around the impact. And that they can choose to remain or they can choose to move to wherever the new beds would be.”

No decisions have been made yet about where in the Valley the beds might be located.

“It’s a little early to say where these might be in terms of the Cowichan Valley. We have a facility in Shawnigan, and we have some in Ladysmith and Chemainus. It’s early though to tell where this might be,” Peters said.

All that is known now is that the new residential care beds will not be at Cairnsmore.

“That is for sure. That facility is owned and operated by the health authority. In order to do it there we’d have to have capital money, which we don’t have. We would be using operating funds, money we spend each day in delivering health care, to pay a private provider to provide residential care. It could be a for-profit or a not-for-profit, we don’t have a preference. We look for the proposals that best deliver quality care.”

“The good news is that we’ve identified this as a critical need. The health authority is going to be able to fund additional beds. All in all, I think this is going to be a good thing for Cowichan.”

Although the request for proposal says construction will begin in the summer of 2017, Peters said that is not a firm date.

Proposals, possible zoning changes and even negotiations with the chosen builder will affect that.

“2017 is the ideal and that’s what we’ve asked the proponents to consider. And if it happens earlier that might even be better,” Peters said, adding that it was too early to talk about a dollar figure for the project.

Peters said there may be an opportunity for public input into the project if zoning changes are needed, but the developer will also need to hold community information sessions.

“I just want to finally emphasize we have identified the Cowichan Valley as one of our highest priorities, if not our No. 1 priority [on the Island] for more residential care. We’re really quite excited to be able to move forward on this.”