Residents fear they'll 'lose everything' as closure looms for B.C. home for people with mental illness

Christina Fellas, left, and Russell Garrett, pictured on March 7, say they still don't know where they'll live after Buena Vista Lodge in White Rock, B.C., closes at the end of May.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Christina Fellas, left, and Russell Garrett, pictured on March 7, say they still don't know where they'll live after Buena Vista Lodge in White Rock, B.C., closes at the end of May. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

With less than three months to go until the closure of a Metro Vancouver assisted living facility for people with mental illness, some residents say they still have no idea where their next home will be.

The folks who live in Buena Vista Lodge in White Rock, about 50 kilometres southeast of Vancouver near the Canada-U.S. border, have been told the home will be closed permanently on May 31.

Operators of the privately run home have decided not to renew their service agreements with Fraser Health, blaming a decrease in funding, while the health authority has declined to consider new operators, saying it's dedicating resources elsewhere.

So far, Fraser Health says two of the 12 residents have moved to new homes, and those who remain will be offered space in another city. A third resident was discharged from Buena Vista because they weren't suited to the program, and they're still awaiting a new placement.

For Christina Fellas, who has lived at Buena Vista for the last 13 years, leaving White Rock would mean losing the church she attends every Sunday, her favourite restaurants and the second-hand store where she volunteers.

"Oh, I would lose everything," she told CBC. "It would be terrible."

She said she's visited one potential option for a new home, but didn't like it.

Russell Garrett is in a similar situation, and says the prospect of moving is always in the back of his mind.

"They showed me another place about a month ago and it was just not a good place," he said.

"I didn't like it — it wasn't close to my family."

Beds to be offered in yet-to-open Surrey facility

Fraser Health spokesperson Dixon Tam told CBC in an email that Buena Vista residents will be offered space in a new 10-bed mental health facility opening "in the coming months" in Cloverdale, a community in nearby Surrey.

"These new beds are as close to their existing home in White Rock as possible," he said.

Elenore Sturko, the B.C. Liberal critic for mental health and addictions, said it was unacceptable to learn that most Buena Vista residents don't know where they're going next.

"I think that it's unjust that they would force a move on individuals who are already extremely vulnerable," she said.

She called it a "no brainer" for the health authority to find the funding to keep the facility open.

"We have another company that wants to take over the contract to help continue the care for these community members where they've lived for more than 20 years," she said.

Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.'s minister of mental health and addictions, said she knows being moved will be disruptive for Buena Vista residents.

"But unfortunately we understand that that building is quite old — 100 years old — and the operator has decided that it no longer wishes to provide that service," she said.

When asked why a new operator can't take over the contract at Buena Vista, she didn't answer directly, saying instead that Fraser Health is "always looking at how they can scale up beds."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Many Buena Vista residents who've spoken to CBC about their experiences describe the staff and their housemates at the facility as family, and say they fear being forced into institutions, far from the White Rock community they've grown to love.

Bridget Coombs, whose mother Magdalena has lived in the home for the last 13 years, says she and her mother made their first visit to a potential new facility in February.

"It's not a home like Buena Vista. It's more institutional," Coombs said. "She came back and all she could say was she is going to die — she's going to die if she goes there."

Nicholas Miller said his brother David is starting to look unkempt as the uncertainty about his living situation drags on.

"He is worried that he'll end up in Abbotsford or Chilliwack where I won't be able to see him because of gas prices," he said.

Jacquie Webber said her sister, Karen Whittall, has become increasingly depressed as the deadline to leave Buena Vista draws near.

"She's 70 years old," Webber said.

"That's pretty old for somebody to be disrupted after living in a place for 15 years."