Sooke mayor says town facing health crisis, needs care facility

Sooke is facing a health-care crisis, says Mayor Maja Tait. She wants the Capital Regional District to explore the possibility of a pilot project to establish a regional health facility in the community.

Sooke is only 30 kilometres from Victoria General Hospital but the combination of a challenging highway and limited public transit can make the trip a daunting prospect for people in pain, Tait said.

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“If you fall and you’re in pain, it’s a long bumpy ride to get to Victoria General. If you have a senior that can’t drive, it means that someone is taking time off of work to drive back and forth.”

Tait, who chairs Sooke’s Primary Health Care Services Working Group — which includes health-care professionals and Island Health representatives — has spent years seeking better X-ray services for her community.

She went further this week, asking the CRD hospitals and housing committee to consider opening a facility in Sooke that provides emergency health care.

Highway 14 to Sooke is not only challenging but occasionally closed due to accidents, and public transit has come nowhere near to keeping up with the 48 per cent population growth since 1999, Tait told members of the CRD hospitals and housing committee.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Sooke is the service centre for Otter Point, Shirley, Jordan River, Port Renfrew, East Sooke and parts of Metchosin, Tait said.

“So if you have any sort of mobility issue, residents are catching earlier and earlier buses because the ones at peak hours are completely full and you can’t get a wheelchair or a baby stroller on.

“I’ve seen people left behind.”

She said ambulance service is limited. “We have two in Sooke but once they leave our community, often they don’t come back because of the pressure that’s in the core.”

The only available X-ray unit is analogue, operated two days a week through a private service provider. A more modern X-ray facility would help attract more doctors to the area, she said.

Sooke is hindered because it’s considered too close to existing facilities, Tait said.

“It’s always a case where someone is looking at a map and saying: ‘Sooke’s here, these facilities are here. What’s the problem?’ Transit, highway access and the fact that these other areas are busy with the growth and trying to serve the existing population [are the problem].”

Island Health is in the early stages of developing a health- service plan for the West Shore, which includes Sooke, as the region grows and demand for health-care services increases, said Lois Cosgrave, Island Health community director for Sooke, Esquimalt and the West Shore.

Infrastructure costs to support a new medical-imaging facility would be “significant” and would have to be considered in context with other needs throughout Island Health, Cosgrave said.

Tait noted that in addition to a growing population, the Sooke area is a destination for surfing, kite surfing, rock climbing, mountain biking and other outdoor activities that can lead to accidents.

She envisions a facility that would provide primary and urgent care, located with a lab and diagnostics facilities along with space for social programs and possibly affordable housing. The district already owns land in the centre of town where a facility could be located, she said.

“In terms of making Sooke more independent, having such a facility would certainly lessen our dependence on Highway 14 and would stimulate local job creation here,” Tait said. “So many of our residents that do work in Sooke are already employed in the health industry.”

Sooke lost its rural designation for health care more than a decade ago, a status that would have enhanced its ability to attract improved primary care, Tait said.

Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks said he supports Tait in her efforts to attract better health care to Sooke.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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