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Learning from the Gabriola Island Health Centre

You don’t have to travel far from Bowen to see how an island community can bring health care close to home. In June 2012, Gabriola Island opened the doors of a new health care facility.
Gabriola Island's health centre.
Gabriola Island's health centre.

You don’t have to travel far from Bowen to see how an island community can bring health care close to home.

In June 2012, Gabriola Island opened the doors of a new health care facility. It has radically improved health care access for their community. It also serves as an inspirational and instructive case study as we move forward with our own health care centre here on Bowen.

Gabriola and Bowen share some basic realities. Our year-round populations are about the same. Like Bowen, Gabriola lies a short ferry ride from numerous primary care physicians and ancillary medical services. Before they built their health care centre, about two-thirds of Gabriola residents went off-island for their primary care – roughly similar to what we find on Bowen today.

However, once Gabriola’s clinic was up and running, things changed. Eighty-seven per cent of Gabriola residents now get their primary health care on-island. Islanders have access to extended hours for urgent care, as well as to a much-expanded range of health services.  

I was part of a field trip by Bowen’s Health Centre Foundation to the Gabriola clinic, and I was greatly impressed by what I saw and heard. Three takeaways, among others:

Build it and they will come: The centre has made it much easier for Gabriola to recruit physicians and attract ancilliary services. Now everyone on Gabriola can have their primary care doctor on-island.

Team approach benefits patient care: Health centre physicians can now easily consult on individual cases with their primary care colleagues, as well as with visiting physicians and other health and social service providers who work out of the centre.

Community pride and ownership: Gabriola residents were generous both financially and with a remarkable volunteer effort in building the centre. They feel a strong sense of community ownership. Even those who kept their off-island primary care physician know the clinic is there for them when and if they need it.

I was lucky enough to conduct a video interview with Dr. Tracey Thorne, one of Gabriola’s primary care physicians, who gives a compelling account of how things have improved for patients and doctors since the centre was built (check out her video on our Bowen Island Health Centre Foundation website by clicking “The Solution” on the “Health Care Today” menu.)

To be clear: we are not looking simply to duplicate what was done on Gabriola here on Bowen.

Our foundation aims to provide access to health care services that best address the specific needs of Bowen residents. We are working in close consultation with Bowen’s health care practitioners to ensure we do that.

Moreover, the type of facility we build, and how we build it, will be the product of local realities with respect to zoning, economics, labour availability and other factors particular to this island.

Thus our solution to health care access will, in every sense, be “made on Bowen.”

Nevertheless, the Gabriola experience teaches us a great deal.

It underscores the very real need for better access to health care on an island like ours. It proves that others have faced the same challenge, dealt with it decisively, and are seeing multiple benefits as a result.

Finally, it shows that when everyone gets behind a project that is so fundamental to our common good, it bonds us together even more closely as a strong and caring community.

The Bowen Island Health Centre Foundation is dedicated to bringing health care close to home on Bowen. For more, visit