Vision: Cowichan Lodge fitting in to the neighbourhood

A little more than a year after its opening, any concerns local residents had when they heard the Cowichan Lodge would transform from a seniors’ home to a mental health facility have been put to rest.

The facility is across the street from the Queen of Angels Catholic School and next door to St. Peter’s Quamichan Anglican Church.

“There have been absolutely no issues at all, it’s been a very quiet year,” said the school’s principal, Art Therrien.

Echoing his statement were Cpl. Jon Stuart, North Cowichan-Duncan’s RCMP media relations officer and the Reverend Deborah River, St. Peter’s rector.

“If there were concerns a year ago about how we’d fit in, that’s no longer the case,” said Sheena Nolli, Island Health’s manager of mental health and substance abuse. “We’re building nice relationships, within the community; the initial concerns have disappeared.”

On February 21, 2013, the Cowichan Lodge Mental Health Facility for Seniors and Adults opened, after a $9-million renovation.

The facility has 27 adult beds, for those with mental health or substance abuse issues. The facility also has 24 beds for seniors with dementia and complex behavioural problems.

Nolli said average length of stay is between six and 24 months, but some seniors can age in place if that’s what’s best for them.

In its first year, five residents in the adult wing and six in the seniors’ wing completed treatment and were discharged to their home communities. Four others are waiting to be discharged.

“Planning can be complex,” she said.

Anne Hodge, the Cowichan branch’s executive director for the Canadian Mental Health Association, said one in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their lives, the most common being depression.

The lodge provides a higher level of service when community support isn’t enough. Its typical mental health client is someone who has accessed their community’s mental health programs and is still having a hard time staying well and functioning, Nolli said.

Cowichan Lodge is one of only two facilities of its kind on the island. The other is Victoria’s Seven Oaks, which has 40 beds.

“We need as many resources on the island as we can get,” Hodge said. “We don’t have many resources here.”

Island Health said there is no one on the waitlist for the seniors beds, and nine for the adult, waiting for placement at either Seven Oaks or Cowichan Lodge. The wait for those facilities ranges from two to six weeks. Those waiting continue to receive care within the community.

Part of the reason the facility has fit so seamlessly into the community is the fact it created a community liaison worker position.

That person worked with local schools, residents and clients to identify and address problems and concerns. Because of their success, facility administrators reassigned the employee to another position at the lodge.

It also holds, “good neighbour,” meetings twice a year with local residents and community stakeholders, for feedback and to resolve any issues. These will continue, Island Health officials said.

A news release issued by Island Health stated Rob Hutchins, chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and co-chairman of Our Cowichan Communities Health Network, said he appreciated the government devoting the funds to re-establish Cowichan Lodge as a valued health facility.

“From all accounts Island Health has exceeded expectations in the renovation of Cowichan Lodge, bringing much needed mental health beds to our region and implementing the Good Neighbour Commitment,” he said.

And as for its future?

During the renovation, only two of the four wings in the former seniors’ facility were renovated; one of the remaining two is being used for offices.

Representatives from Island Health said the organization remains committed to renovating the two remaining wings when resources permit.

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