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Bringing health care close to home: The Bowen Island Community Health Centre

Part 1 of 6: What is the Bowen Island Community Health Centre and how did we get here?
Health Centre construction
The foundation is coming along at the Bowen Island Community Health Centre on Miller Road.

Thankfully, more access to health care choices close to home is just around the corner. The Bowen Island Community Health Centre is no longer an idea — it’s happening. Construction has started, health professionals are being recruited, money continues to be raised, as we work towards opening the Bowen Island Community Health Centre sometime in late 2023.

This project is of critical importance to Bowen Island, full of promise and opportunity for all. So, once per month over the next six months, The Undercurrent will run an article about specific details of the Community Health Centre to help all residents — long timers and newcomers alike — gain a better understanding of what the Bowen Island Community Health Centre is and will be, and how we can all benefit from increased and better access to health care options.

This month: What is the Bowen Island Community Health Centre and how did we get here?

Limited on-island and difficult to access off-island healthcare services put Bowen Islanders at an extreme inconvenience and some risk. Our families and neighbours suffer from lack of immediate care and sufficient primary care when we need it. Too many of us with health issues delay seeking care because we don’t have enough services close to home, and the need continues to grow.

2021 Census data for Bowen Island shows that our population has grown by 16 per cent, to more than 4,200 people, in the past five years. As more people choose Bowen to raise a family, work from home or retire, the need for on-island primary care — doctors, nurse practitioners, dentists, mental health professionals and more — becomes more urgent.

Because of these concerns, the Bowen Island Health Centre Foundation was formed with the goal of creating a new community health centre on Bowen. In 2015, the group conducted a community-wide survey that confirmed that Bowen Island residents have difficulty with access to health care services. Many services taken for granted on the mainland — even something as common as stitches for a wound — are not available to most on the island, and access to services currently necessitates a ferry trip.

In 2018, the Foundation launched a capital campaign with a target of $6 million to build and equip a new health centre as the hub for health care on Bowen. The campaign became the most successful fundraising drive in the history of Bowen Island. Community members from every income bracket responded generously with donations and pledges, allowing the Foundation to purchase land on Miller Road adjacent to the new fire station for the design and construction of a 10,000 square foot facility just steps from the Cove.

The new health centre will follow the Community Health Centre (CHC) model outlined by the BC Ministry of Health. Community Health Centres are multi-sector not-for-profit or cooperative organizations providing a community with primary health care. CHCs bring physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and allied health workers together to work closely as an integrated health team to support social determinants of health. Under this model, the community will play a lead and active role in defining what we need and how best to make that happen.

The proposed service model could include expanded primary and rural urgent care; allied professionals such as physiotherapy and mental health; expanded lab testing and diagnostics; full-service dental practice; the Caring Circle (a local society offering personal health navigation for those having difficulty accessing the health services they need); other health services such as hearing and vision testing, and chronic disease management including clinics such as diabetic, COPD and asthma; and Vancouver Coastal Health programming such as immunization, nutrition, and early childhood clinics.

That’s the vision, but not all these services will be in place on day one. This service model will evolve over time as health care professionals and other tenants come on board.

The health centre will be owned and operated by the Foundation, whose board represents the Bowen community at large. The Foundation is currently in the application process to secure operational funding from the provincial Ministry of Health.

Today, the vision of a small group of inspired islanders has, with overwhelming community support, become reality. But there is still work to be done. Our success relies on residents staying informed, continuing to provide generous donations for construction and, when the time comes, taking advantage of new Bowen-based health care services and professionals.

Please continue to follow our progress on Facebook and on our web site (www.bowenhealthcentre.com).

Next Month: Service Model at the Bowen Island Community Health Centre and addressing the health care gap.

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