Good news

Two partners in community health to launch new wellness centre

The Victoria Community Health Co-op has long struggled with a lack of dedicated space. That’s about to change

By Emily Fagan
October 15, 2021
Good news

Two partners in community health to launch new wellness centre

The Victoria Community Health Co-op has long struggled with a lack of dedicated space. That’s about to change

By Emily Fagan
Oct 15, 2021
Emily Fagan / Capital Daily
Good news

Two partners in community health to launch new wellness centre

The Victoria Community Health Co-op has long struggled with a lack of dedicated space. That’s about to change

By Emily Fagan
October 15, 2021
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Two partners in community health to launch new wellness centre
Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

In the darkened secondary unit of the Cook Street Village Activity Centre, where I see old carpet and yellowed paint, Vanessa Hammond sees nothing but potential. A seminar room, acupuncture, mobility aid parking, massage therapy, hypnotherapy, counselling—room after room of wellness services will soon move into this space, pending a renovation and one final go-ahead from the city.

It’s a dream come true for Hammond and the Victoria Community Health Co-op, which has worked hard to provide wellness services for people in the community since it was founded in 2008. Currently, they have two registered nurses and a variety of programs focused on mental and physical wellbeing, but this new expansion will allow them to further partner with the Cook Street Village Activity Centre on additional health-focused initiatives.

“We’re trying to keep people as healthy as possible so they don't need medical services,” said Hammond, chairperson and a cofounder of Victoria Community Health Co-op.

The volunteer-run co-op offers community members free access to its registered nurses, who see about eight to 10 people each day they’re available. Although appointments have a suggested run time of about five minutes, time limits are not heavily enforced.

“Not being too rushed is deliberate policy,” Hammond said.

Most of the work run by the Victoria Community Health Co-op, she says, helps to fill gaps in the system left by an underfunded health system.

“Home visits, in theory, are covered by Island Health, but it's just not happening. There's some private services that cost $100 to do a visit like that,” Hammond said. “Well, lots of people don't have a spare $100, so we're doing that kind of thing.”

The co-op’s nurses help community members better navigate their health. Some of their services include assisting people in understanding their medical test results, directing them through complexities in the health care system, checking their vitals, providing post-discharge care after a hospital visit, or referring them to specialists as needed. 

Many of the co-op’s other services focus on educating the community on health and getting them socially active—something Hammond has said became particularly important during the pandemic, as many co-op members are seniors who may feel isolated. 

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In wellbeing events hosted by the co-op, for which they charge a suggested donation fee, Hammond says they always leave time for attendees to chat amongst themselves at the end. Feedback from these events has shown her that often, it’s the connections people take away that stand out the most from these talks.

From this, the Victoria Community Health Co-op has also started a program called “Let’s Say Hello,” where members can sign up to receive a weekly call from a volunteer to check in and chat about how they’re doing. While the goal is primarily to establish reliable social connections for members of the community, Hammond says the program will also be important to make sure they are staying safe and healthy.

But the space itself has always been a struggle. 

Currently, the co-op borrows rooms within the Cook Street Village Activity Centre when they’re not in use—a partnership that Carol Turnbull, executive director of the activity centre, says has served both groups well over the years. But the expansion will be a welcome change, allowing the co-op dedicated spaces for their registered nurses and room for activity centre’s current wellness resources to grow alongside the co-op.

“We're going to be the primary tenant, and we're allowed to rent out space to those we choose,” said Turnbull. “We chose the health co-op, because it was such a good fit for us.”

She and Hammond are eager to fulfill their vision for the space: painting the walls, ripping up the carpet, and flipping it into a bright and welcoming community hub.

“All the rooms are being named after native plants, and we're hoping to get a lot of those native plants out into the front garden,” Turnbull said.

The registered nurses’ rooms, Hammond noted happily, will be named after plants native to Vancouver Island and Ireland—two places she has lived and considers home.

This week, Turnbull and Hammond met with the city to try and solidify their official move-in date, the final steps in a process that began in 2019. The first day they’re allowed, Hammond says one of the co-op’s board members will be leading the renovations on the space. But for the moment, they’re in a holding pattern—with supplies for the new centre ready to move from Turnbull’s office and Hammond’s car as soon as they receive word from the city.

Lots of events through the co-op have garnered wider community interest—such as their flu shot clinic this week—but during the pandemic, Hammond says they have seen a drop off in donations. She hopes that the new space will encourage new members to join the co-op and hopefully allow them to bring on a third registered nurse.

Hammond has been part of co-ops since she joined one in Ireland to sell eggs at 12 years old, and she’s been part of building the Victoria Community Health Co-op and other local co-ops for more than 20 years now. 

“I don't believe in half-hearted co-ops,” she said.

Standing with Turnbull and Hammond among the half-lit, ageing space, I began to see the vision they’d been working so long to fulfill. If all goes well, Victoria won’t have to wait much longer to see it with them.

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