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Worry, uncertainty looms as closing date nears for White Rock mental health housing facility

Peace Arch News - 3/25/2023

A mental health housing facility in White Rock is nearing its closing date, and while arrangements have been made for the accommodation of some of its residents, not all are feeling comfortable with – or even know – where they are headed next.

The uncertainty is once again raising concerns among residents, their families and staff members of Buena Vista Lodge. Along with a pair of local politicians, they are urging Fraser Health Authority to reverse its decision to close the space, which has been in operation for more than 50 years, at the end of May.

White Rock City Coun. Ernie Klassen has invited staff and family members of Buena Vista Lodge residents to speak at the next regular council meeting on Monday (March 27).

"It's a program in our community that I believe we need to have here, as mental health issues have been escalating through COVID and are continuing to," Klassen said.

"It's very sad that we'll be losing one of the only programs, if not the only program, for seniors with mental health issues."

On Oct. 5, 2022, operators of Buena Vista Lodge received a letter from Fraser Health after the owners requested the lease for their assisted living facility be transferred to new operators. The letter stated that the health authority has "dedicated our resources to other projects" and an agreement with new operators would not be granted.

'Things can change in a heartbeat with mental health'

Nick Miller's brother David has been living at Buena Vista Lodge since leaving Good Shepherd Lodge, a nearby assisted living facility that closed in 2018. While David's next home was initially expected to be in Burnaby or Chilliwack, he is now planning to move to a new facility in Cloverdale.

That facility is scheduled to open May 1 and will have 10 beds, Fraser Health spokesperson Amory Wong confirmed in an email to Peace Arch News on Friday (March 24).

Miller isn't holding his breath.

"Things can change in a heartbeat with mental health," he said.

"(David) was supposed to go to another place but that didn't turn out."

He also explained that once before, David was placed in a facility, but was taken to hospital only a few days later and placed in a psychiatric hold because staff at the new residence were not able to care for him.

"Fingers and toes are crossed" that the Cloverdale facility will be a good fit for David and he won't have to move another time, Miller said.

Fraser Health said the new space "has been renovated specifically for the delivery of mental-health care, where it meets (the residents') individual needs and preferences."

But not every resident from Buena Vista will be able to live in the new facility; only five of the 10 will move there.

"Three residents have been accepted to other facilities and we are awaiting their decisions," Amory said, adding that the health authority is still seeking solutions for the remaining two.

Bridget Coombs, meanwhile, is feeling "frustrated (and) worried because the crunch is on. Considering they've had close to a year to figure things out and now they're trying to find places but not the right one for my mom."

Her mother, Magdalena, 87, has been living at Buena Vista Lodge for a little more than 13 years.

At this point, Magdalena does not know where she will go once Buena Vista closes at the end of May. The closure is coming at a tough time, Coombs said, because in a few years, Magdalena will likely have to move to another care home because her family expects that the level of care she needs will eventually increase.

"Any move will be difficult (but) if Buena Vista was to stay open, maybe she would only have to make one move.

"If she were to move where a similar type of care (to Buena Vista Lodge) is, then that would be fine" but the family has yet to find a suitable option, one that would offer care for someone of Magdalena's age, while also providing mental health services in a building that is both accessible and close to her family.

The family learned that the new space in Cloverdale has stairs up to its bedrooms, making it inaccessible for Magdalena and possibly others, Coombs said, because her mother is not the only older adult who will be needing a new home in June.

When the family toured one option, Magdalena didn't like it because it was "institutional" rather than like a home, said her other daughter, Maria Diamond.

"I'll die if you send me there," Magdalena told her family, Diamond shared.

Hope lingers for decision reversal

The White Rock home offers, for its residents, a "family," with many of them spending their days together, going out for a meal or to the mall. All that will be lost if they are separated, family members said.

Many have been living there for more than 20 years.

"We're still hoping they decide to keep it open," Coombs said.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside said, however, "there were a number of factors to consider" when Fraser Health was approached by the private operators about having a new owner take over at Buena Vista Lodge.

"Contracts are not transferable to other operators," Whiteside said.

"It is also my understanding that the home is quite old and that it may or may not … into the future, it may not be the most appropriate space," adding that the house was built in 1916.

Whiteside said she is empathetic towards the residents of Buena Vista Lodge and recognizes that challenges come with a move, but said Fraser Health has a plan to ensure that every resident goes somewhere that is appropriate for them.

Klassen, meanwhile, acknowledged that keeping Buena Vista Lodge open is not within the control of the municipality. However, he hopes that highlighting the situation will help prompt a re-evaluation of the decision to not transfer the contract to new operators.

"I believe that residents shouldn't be forced out of their own community," Klassen said.

Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford said the only acceptable option is to keep Buena Vista Lodge open.

"No matter what the decision ends up being or what the resolution is, a number of residents and their families have been traumatized through this experience and that is unnecessary. Full stop," Halford said.

"Nobody from Fraser Health or the minister's office has been able to explain to me what the rationale is for closing this facility. These people are in our community, they are a part of our community and they should stay in our community."

He called the decision "short-sighted."

"I don't think they're realizing here the human impact that this is having, they're looking at it from a different lens. I think the lens it needs to be (seen through) is what is best for the people who are residing at Buena Vista Lodge. That's the only focus there should be," he said.

"I have talked with the minister of health. I plan on doing that again next week and seeing what we can do moving forward."