By Susanne Martin – Bowen Island Undercurrent
Published: September 13, 2013 2:00 PM
Last week, the Caring Circle Resource Centre’s office moved from Village Square into the heritage cottage next to the library. Since it opened in its previous location in February, about 180 people have visited the premises. At the September 9 council meeting, Colleen O’Neil presented a report on behalf of the Caring Circle and asked council for funding for the position of a health navigator.
“You have on your desk a major application,” O’Neil said. “It includes about 15 pages of statistics about the people who came in and some of the concerns we had to address since February.”
Diane Marshall, coordinator of the Caring Circle, expressed her gratitude for the use of the heritage cottage and O’Neil said that its location next to the library, that also lends medical equipment, offers exciting opportunities for partnerships. “The heritage cottage has two back rooms,” she said. “I could have a volunteer in front and be able to take the people who want some privacy into the back.”
O’Neil’s presentation included health services currently available on Bowen Island as well as gaps. “We have one physician working four days a week and one physician working three mornings a week for a population of about 3,600,” O’Neil said. “And we have no medical support on weekends or after hours.” She also pointed out the lack of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) support programs, such as post stroke care.
“We have no leadership for health and wellness promotion and that is what the Caring Circle is trying to do,” she said. “We also have no urgent care services and no clinic.”
O’Neil explained that transportation issues have also been identified as hurdles for islanders seeking care.
“We have no taxi and limited bus services,” she said. “And it can be difficult for people to get on the ferry with a wheelchair or a cane.” And even though the water taxi is available for emergencies during the times the ferry is not operating, O’Neil said that some people feel uncomfortable making use of this service.
The Caring Circle has started to address some of the issues. “We are planning a driver program,” O’Neil said. “So far, we have 13 volunteer drivers lined up to take people to medical and health appointments and social events. We are hoping to launch it this fall.” Another Caring Circle initiative works toward creating an urgent care facility on Bowen Island.
“We also put together a personal support group for a person who is living at risk,” O’Neil said. “From this experience we can create a template about how we as a community can help people to live active vital lives at home.”
Among the achievements of the Caring Circle to date, O’Neil listed the creation of the Bowen Island Health Resource Guide, the development of a website (caringcircle.ca) and the operating of the Caring Circle Resource Centre for three days a week.
Among the subjects brought up by the visitors of the resource centre, O’Neil mentioned social isolation, financial vulnerability, fragile health and serious transportation problems to access medical services.
“We found that there are many vulnerable citizens on Bowen,” O’Neil said, adding that the areas of concern affect all age groups. “I spoke to many people who have young families. They said that when they moved here, they didn’t think about health care. And now they are nervous,” she said.
O’Neil believes that the Caring Circle can change lives. “Aging in place is needed as people are having to leave their homes and community for health reasons,” she said. “And anxiety around health and wellness also needs attention.” O’Neil said that she feels that Bowen Island is in a bit of a crisis and there is a pressing need to improve primary and urgent care.
O’Neil explained that the Caring Circle is seeking funding for a salaried part-time position for a navigator in the Caring Circle Health Resource Centre. “All of [the Caring Circle’s] initiatives depend on having a [health navigator] working regular hours, responding to community input, information seeking and exploring opportunities,” the report says.
The total for the salary for the position of the health navigator for year one (2013-2014) is listed in the Caring Circle’s revenue and expenses grant form as $38,880. For the first six months of operation, the amount of $19,440 has been donated by O’Neil as she has volunteered her time in the Caring Circle Resource Centre. But she explained that the position will be advertised.
As rationale for the grant, the Caring Circle states, “For a sustainable and financially viable future for Bowen it is important that the fear that we lack adequate health care does not determine whether people leave or choose not to live here in the first place.” The report also says, “Once we establish stable funding for operating the health resource centre, there will be an enhanced sense of confidence and well-being in the community, knowing there is a focused intention to help those with health care needs to obtain the information and resources they require to live a rich and fulfilling life on Bowen.”
O’Neil explained that Powell River has hired a health navigator using a partnership model between VCH and local physicians, sharing the cost 50/50. She suggested that a similar model would work for Bowen Island where the salary costs could be shared between the municipality and VCH.
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz said he sees health issues as directly linked to the social and economic well-being of the whole community and regards the Caring Circle’s work as essential. Councillor Andrew Stone believes that the Caring Circle can be a “doorway” to creating a health facility like the one on Gabriola Island.
O’Neil wanted Bowen Islanders to know that telephone and Internet issues for the new location will be resolved by the beginning of next week and islanders are invited to come in and say hello.