The derelict site at Mount St. Francis, an extended care hospital in Nelson that shut down 15 years ago, is where Interior Health intends to build a new long-term seniors care facility.
The Ministry of Health’s announcement on Monday that 495 new seniors beds would be added to communities within Interior Health, includes 75 for Nelson.
Construction on a new facility is set to begin next year.
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall said the new site is best described as a health campus, which could incorporate additional physical and mental health services and even a child care centre.
“Health care, it’s constantly changing, and wanting to make sure that we’re staying up with contemporary health-care delivery means that we’re going to need different types of space,” said Mungall. “So making sure that this health-care campus model addresses that is part of the overall project.”
The new building will be Nelson’s third long-term seniors’ care site. Nelson Jubilee Manor in Rosemont, which is run by Interior Health, has 39 publicly funded beds. Mountain Lake Seniors Community in Fairview has 92 beds, of which seven are privately funded.
It’s not clear yet if the original Mount St. Francis building, which was constructed in the 1940s, will remain intact. Interior Health told the Star in 2018 that the building would require extensive upgrades to use, and also has asbestos and lead paint that need removing.
Mungall was adamant that it will not be used to provide modern health care.
“It’s from another era in terms of how you do health care, it doesn’t allow us to deliver on best practices in health care, the way how it’s configured. It’s dilapidated, it’s old, it’s run down. It’s just not a usable building. We know that. We need to do something that’s going to be right for our community.”
The decision to expand seniors care in Nelson comes after a previous failed attempt by Interior Health in 2017.
A request for proposals for a 43-bed facility was made public that year but no applicants were found.
Interior Health president Susan Brown said she believes a 75-bed facility will draw more interest.
“We’ve increased the number of beds there so it seems a more economical, viable option for somebody to come forward,” said Brown. “We think we’ll be successful this time and we’ve been having discussions locally with people. We’re poised for success on this one.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Interior Health will lease the facility from the proponent and operate both long-term care and community services. He said the availability of land already owned by Interior Health should make the proposal process easier for applicants.
“The intention here is to provide more beds, but to also meet the need for community services, which is a really exciting proposal for Nelson,” said Dix.
Monday’s announcement was a long time coming for Judy Banfield.
She’s a member of the Mount St. Francis Advocacy Group, which began meeting two years ago to consider how the land might still be used for health care. Banfield was thrilled to hear Mungall describe the future site as a campus.
“It’s very innovative in its concept,” said Banfield. “We know so much now that what keeps elders healthy is interaction with young people and nobody stuffed away in a care home that nobody knows is there if they don’t have somebody in it.”
Mount St. Francis was run by The Sisters of St. Ann until 1996 when it was sold to the Nelson and Area Health Council. The council later turned it over to Interior Health, which shut it down in 2005. Mountain Lake Seniors Community opened on an adjacent property the same year.
Banfield’s parents lived at Mount St. Francis for eight years, and during that time she formed an attachment to the building and the people who worked there.
“It was a very loving place. I do have a lot of feelings for that place. I knew the clerical staff, I knew the custodial staff, I knew the kitchen staff because everybody worked together like really beautifully and you didn’t get a sense of a hierarchy.”
Banfield said she hopes Interior Health will consider community engagement as it develops the new site. With plenty of space and a forest adjacent to the property, Banfield says the setting is perfect for seniors.
“This community has an amazing capacity to be visionary and to make the vision come true. I think this is a vision that will encompass all generations in this community and that will grow over time.”
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