Caring Circle helps islanders navigate health services

A few years ago, the Vancouver Coastal Health conducted its ‘My Health, My Community’  survey. Bowen Island rated the highest of the entire Lower Mainland for residents’ sense of belonging in their community. Despite some challenges, such as limited health services, there isn’t any other place many residents would rather be. 

Until the Bowen Island Health Center is built, one of the organizations that has been filling in the gaps in health services and deepening that sense of belonging is the Caring Circle. Located next to the Cove Commons, the Caring Circle is a multi-resource centre dedicated to providing Bowen residents with the best health services possible. I spoke to Colleen O’Neil, the Caring Circle’s co-founder and current Program Coordinator.

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O’Neil used to do health navigation in Vancouver. Given Bowen is underserved in terms of health services, O’Neil thought, “Maybe there’s a role here on Bowen for this [health navigation]. Maybe I’ll just open a space and see what happens.” Over five years, later Caring Circle continues to serve all Islanders –elders, young families, kids, everybody.

What is health navigation? O’Neil explains that it is “helping people access the services that are available to them that they might just not know about. I don’t give medical advice I just tell people, ‘Look, you need to call Vancouver Coastal Health here’s the number’....’Oh, you need home support services here’s who you call.’...’You need a disability pension here’s a form here. I’ll help you fill it out. Here’s how we can do it online. I can help you do that if you don’t have a computer.’” 

“I’d say one of the most important calls that I get is either from a senior –I call them ‘super elders’– not 55-plus, but people in their seventies, maybe late seventies, eighties, or their children, their adult children, will call me and say, ‘I don’t know what to do’…The second most important call that I get is pre-surgery and post-surgery. So, people say, ‘I’m having hip surgery I don’t know what to do? Is there anything you can tell me that I should know?’”

So, O’Neil talks to residents about their options and resources. 

“That’s the health navigation component. Plus, Caring Circle does advocacy around improving services for Bowen. So, we played a big role in the emergency weather shelter and the ‘Paramedicine Program’. You know, Bowen got chosen to have paramedic paramedicine practitioners on Bowen. Caring Circle [advocated] to make sure that happened on Bowen.”

Along with health navigation and advocacy, Caring Circle is dedicated to education. From programs on postpartum depression, anxiety, to advanced care planning and medical-assisted death, Caring Circle has also conducted workshops on hearing problems, hand mobility, and has run asthma clinics.

If you’re a resident or even someone from off-Island with a friend or loved one on Bowen who might need health services, are elderly, or need help pre- or post-operation then contact the Caring Circle at (604) 947-9100, info@caringcircle.ca, or visit their website, caringcircle.ca/

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