Creating a Safety Net for Health Challenges


Diane Marshall

By Susanne Martin – Bowen Island Undercurrent
Published: December 14, 2012 10:00 AM

Many island residents choose to live on Bowen because they value the quality of life. But in times of accidents or failing health, they may re-evaluate their choice. Diane Marshall believes that we need to build a safety net, especially for the times when our health is compromised, and that is why she has mobilized a group of people who are passionate about health services. Together, they founded the Caring Circle.

“The health safety net is simply not there on Bowen,” Marshall said. “We based that assumption on the Seniors’ Needs Assessment that was done by Abbeyfield in 2007 and identified that 39 people left Bowen over the course of four years because they couldn’t get the health care they needed.” And while Marshall doesn’t know how many of those seniors would have chosen to stay, she believes that a better system and more support could give them the option.

The Seniors’ Needs Assessment was followed by the 2009 report on age-friendly communities by Faye White that drew attention to the same issues. Marshall became interested in exploring the topic because she has worked as a nurse, social worker and counsellor over her career and had participated in an age-friendly focus group. “In 2008, when I was recuperating from a heart incident, I realized that I was afraid of coming home to Bowen,” Marshall recalls. “I wondered why that was. I also became aware that there was a lot of uncertainty about whether people had a choice to die on Bowen Island – according to the needs assessment report, this didn’t seem to be an option.”

Marshall explained that a close friend of hers wanted to spend the last few months of her life in her home on the island, and, with the help of friends and dedicated health care professionals, she was able to make that wish a reality. But putting the necessary support system in place was challenging and Marshall envisions making it easier for other island residents with a similar desire.

“We often hear of people leaving Bowen because they don’t have enough health support,” Marshall said. “People who are dying often move to North Vancouver. But we don’t know if that decision is made by choice or from necessity.” Marshall added that the Caring Circle does not only concentrate on end-of-life care but strives to help people of all ages who are grappling with a disability, critical illness or a chronic condition.

“We talk about creating a more sustainable community but that needs to include a look at health care services that are closer to home,” Marshall said. In 2010, she started to phone islanders to find out about the range of challenges they are facing. Marshall decided that a formal group on Bowen was needed to effectively speak on behalf of people with health concerns. In May this year, she asked Colleen O’Neil if she was interested in joining the group and also started discussions with health care aid Sally Molina, Marilyn Harris from Seniors Keeping Young (SKY), palliative care nurse Jane Henley, pharmacist Bud Massender, emergency social services coordinator Amanda Ockeloen and physiotherapist Sandy Logan, who also manages the med shed.

The group decided to focus on three tasks: creating a guide of resources, a website and establishing the position of a coordinator who can help people find the support they need to deal with health challenges.

“Since we started working on the [health resources] guide, there have been so many people phoning us,” she said. “It’s become evident that there is a real gap and we can serve as a focus for people’s concerns.” And to address that gap, the Caring Circle has looked at different examples and funding options.

In November, Marshall travelled to Gabriola Island together with a group of six Bowen residents. Three representatives of the Caring Circle were joined by Gordon Ganong, chair of the Economic Development Advisory Committee and councillors Tim Rhodes and Andrew Stone, “It was a fact-finding trip,” Marshall said, explaining that they learned about the fundraising campaign that made the Gabriola Community Health Centre a reality. “It is a $4 million-centre and was built with $1.4 million.”

Marshall explained that, in addition to personal financial donations, much of the work was donated. “I believe the average donation was $20,” she said. Marshall learned that Gabriola Island has 5,000 residents, the ferry ride is 20 minutes and that is what it takes to get to the hospital. The feedback Marshall has received about the centre is that it transformed Gabriola Island and is a source of pride and inspiration.

“I don’t know what will be useful for Bowen but I understand that they did a major survey on Gabriola to find out about the need,” she said, adding that the need on Bowen Island has already been determined by a number of studies as well as informal response to the Caring Circle, but a formal assessment would be valuable.

Marshall believes that the Caring Circle could facilitate the coming together of other groups. “We have a number of community support groups that have different purposes and little interaction,” Marshall says. “This is where we are coming in with our resource guide. We’ve also discussed a health corner and a volunteer telephone tree. Maybe some day, we can organize X-rays or optometrist consultations on the island and take a closer look at improving transportation for people with mobility issues. We would also liaise with BC Ferries and the health authorities.”

Marshall referred to the three pillars of a sustainable community defined by the United Nations: economic, environmental and social. “The social fabric of our community – that is what our group is all about,” she said. “On Bowen, a lot of people accept [health service] limitations as a way of life, a choice, but that doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way. Beneath the surface, there is a lot of concern and since we started working on the [health resource] guide, many people have come forward.” And they are not just the elderly, according to Marshall, they also include young families. The Caring Circle plans to give them a voice and work towards necessary changes.