A hearty cheer erupted in the hallway of the Lady Minto Hospital Monday as the hospital’s foundation officially took possession of a motel that will be renovated into affordable staff housing.
The purchase of the Seabreeze Inne by the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation (LMHF) is about addressing both recruitment and retention, executive director Roberta Martell said, at a hospital with 35 open positions. The motel on Fulford-Ganges Road was purchased for $4 million and will be renovated, with over $5.6 million raised through donations including $2.5-million from the foundation’s endowment.
The 29 units plus a manager’s suite will be renovated into between 14 and 20 units of mixed bachelor, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
There is already a list of hospital employees who are underhoused, the board noted, who may be moving in once the renovations are complete. Some units are also meant to be open, said LMHF board member Derek Fry, as temporary housing for staff who want to try out life on Salt Spring before committing to a permanent move. Units will also be available for the regular rotation of locum physicians and nurses who support the hospital.
“Having a place for them that’s easy, that’s always available, makes attracting locums and filling those vacancies much, much easier…to keep the management of the hospital more smooth,” said LMHF director and member of the housing committee Brenda McEachern
Director and fellow housing committee member Humberto Martinho noted that with construction of a new emergency department commencing this year, another success for the hospital foundation with $10.4-million raised, the need for staff and housing will be even greater.
While the Seabreeze plan won’t solve the entire problem, McEachern said it will go a long way to addressing what hospital site director Sara Gogo has indicated are critically important: recruiting and retaining hospital staff.
Design work has started with architects from the Jensen Group and construction is expected to start in the fall. Martell said she hopes the foundation can skip the rezoning process, given the Nov. 9 Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee decision to defer bylaw enforcement for any commercial accommodations being used for long-term residency and for any dwellings deemed unlawful. “It’s not a change of use, people are already using it in this manner, we just want to make it better,” Martell explained. “It’s not a change of use or a change of land use. It’s just a renovation.”
Renovations could begin in June, if no rezoning is required. Otherwise the foundation will need to try and usher through a rezoning in six months Martell said, as the hospital cannot wait. “This is about quality of life on the island and I think a small change like, ‘Oh, is it nurses living in there or folks from the shelter?’ is a moot point when we really need to get moving,” she said.
The purchase of the Seabreeze was not a simple real estate transaction. BC Housing was temporarily leasing space in the motel for 18 people who were at risk of being unhoused.
When Salt Spring Island Community Services’ attempt to purchase the property fell through, with funding from BC Housing not forthcoming, the hospital foundation put a bid. This left the fate of the temporary residents hanging in the balance.
On Jan. 25, BC Housing announced it will build 28 units of housing with supports at a Drake Road property donated to the Capital Regional District by the Gulf Islands School District. A temporary lease has been negotiated between BC Housing and the foundation, so the tenants can stay at the Seabreeze as this build is completed.
“It’s a win for the hospital, it’s a win for healthcare, it’s a win for workforce housing on the island,” said chair of the board Dave Taylor. “It’s a win for people who don’t have a home to go to because BC Housing…as part of all of this, is going ahead and fast-tracking permanent supportive housing on Drake Road.”
“We took these disparate variables and recombined them in innovative ways to come up with a sustainable solution,” Martell said, on an island where issues including a water moratorium and unaffordable land and homes make providing new housing very difficult. “I think that takes a certain courage, that I just really want to thank this board for because we’re really out on a limb here, and we’re going to make sure it works.”
Great idea, sad that hospital foundation(s) are required to correct or address such a societal problem. Perhaps the provincial and federal government need to take a lesson from this group and actually change the dire housing situation that is only getting worse by the year. Congrats. Hopefully it addresses some of your retention and recruitment issues in the near future.