A feasibility report on whether the Regional District of Nanaimo should establish a health and wellness service for Gabriola recommends hiring a part-time coordinator.
The RDN board of directors received the report on Feb. 28, which was written by Urban Matters last year using feedback from two workshops with stakeholder organizations on Gabriola last spring as a background review on health and wellbeing needs of residents. The board also approved adding the establishment of a community health and well-being service for Gabriola Island into the 2023 staff work plan.
Establishment of a service will be the subject of an alternative approval process planned for later this year.
A service would involve a paid staff position charged with facilitating and coordinating across organizations and networks involved with health and wellness on Gabriola and aimed at reducing gaps in service provision and wellness planning and improving access to funding for local service providers, among other goals.
Multiple agencies including the RDN, Islands Trust and school district along with 67 non-profits, networks, co-ops and community groups on Gabriola create a “complicated layering of governance and service provision responsibilities,” the report says. No entity is responsible for coordinating and has been taken on by volunteers up until now.
“Residents of Electoral Area B are more likely to experience poverty and ill health compared to residents of Nanaimo or B.C.,” the report notes, citing higher unemployment as well as rates of children and youth living in low-income households and homelessness.
A coordinator, whether part-time or full-time, would take on and expand upon work currently being done by a stretched thin network of volunteers, primarily those that are a part of the Gabriola Health and Wellness Collaborative (GHWC), the report says.
The consultant analyzed four possible options: status quo, part-time administration only, part-time administration and coordination, and full-time coordination and implementation funding. The report writers recommended either the third or fourth option, which come with an estimated annual operating cost of $49,600 and $100,600, respectively. The third option would include a service provision budget of $10,000 to conduct research and community engagement activities while the fourth option has a budget of $25,000. Estimated costs were based on 2021 budgets from Island Health community health networks and other regional districts operating similar services.
Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy) Director Vanessa Craig said at the board meeting the goal would be to start with a part-time coordinator under a one-year pilot program, which would be reviewed with Gabriola service providers to see if it was fulfilling community need.
The coordinator would not work for the RDN, but would be overseen by a leadership committee under a service provider, possibly the GHWC, which consists of representatives from 40 organizations and individuals across health, social services, emergency response, environment, economy, arts and culture and faith groups. The actual governance structure has yet to be determined.
As part of the review of similar services, the consultant looked at the community health networks model, which operate across Island Health. Typically the networks have a facilitator who is hired through the local area government with funding provided by Island Health, the report says. Network facilitators’ job descriptions include many of the features the proposed RDN service would have, the report adds.
A Nanaimo area network, Naut’sa mawt Health Network, already exists, geographically includes Gabriola and Mudge islands and has a Gabriola representative. Asked whether an RDN health and wellness service would duplicate a network already in place, Craig said the Island Health network is meant to be regional in nature while the work of the GHWC and an RDN service is solely focused on Area B.
Naut’sa mawt Health Network “is actually serving as a model due to the great example of its collaborative nature of over 50 community organizations working together,” Craig told the Sounder. The GHWC requested funding from Island Health to establish a Gabriola community health network but was told the area was too small, Craig added.
“An important point is that Gabriolans are benefiting from the work of collaborative members, much of it volunteer,” Craig said. “What I’ve heard clearly is that these groups feel they need support to avoid volunteer burnout, to facilitate collaboration and to support their continued service to the community.”
The RDN board approved $5,000 to administer the AAP and $20,000 for consulting or contract services required to create a services bylaw or services contract, both to be taken out of Area B’s feasibility fund.
Some directors quibbled about the staff time it would take to deliver the service.
“I can’t support the board continuing to pivot and add to the 2023 work plan,” Electoral Area H Director Lehann Wallace said. Staff clarified work in 2023 would be limited to the AAP.
Ultimately the plan would be to have a service agreement operate similarly to the one between the regional district and the Gabriola Chamber of Commerce for economic development in the electoral area, staff said. The most staff time would be needed to run the AAP and set up a service bylaw and agreement, should Area B voters support it.
“Yes, I’m asking for a bit of staff time,” Craig responded to directors. “We all have projects happening…in our areas” that require staff time. “This is a level of scrutiny that I don’t see applied to other projects.
“It isn’t looking to replicate what Island Health or what the province is doing. It’s a supportive position,” Craig said in response to directors who questioned whether the service fit within the mandate of local government. If established, the service would be paid for by Area B taxpayers.