Residents 'horrified' as another Metro Vancouver home for mental illness set to close

Karen Whittall, left, and Ann McLean have become best friends over the years they've lived at Buena Vista Lodge in White Rock, B.C. (Belle Puri/CBC - image credit)
Karen Whittall, left, and Ann McLean have become best friends over the years they've lived at Buena Vista Lodge in White Rock, B.C. (Belle Puri/CBC - image credit)

The impending closure of another assisted living facility for people with mental illness in Metro Vancouver has residents and their caregivers worried about the impacts on their health.

The 12 people who live in Buena Vista Lodge in White Rock, about 50 kilometres southeast of Vancouver near the Canada-U.S. border, have been told they'll have to be placed in new housing by May 2023 after the operators of the privately run home decided not to renew their service agreements with Fraser Health, blaming a decrease in funding.

The health authority, in turn, has declined to consider bringing in new operators for the facility, saying it's dedicating resources elsewhere.

Ann McLean, 82, has lived in the home for 24 years.

"When I think about moving, I feel very upset and very depressed and just, very horrified," she told CBC.

In the last four years, three other similar facilities have closed in Surrey and White Rock, for a total of 48 beds lost, according to numbers provided by the area's MLA.

That number could double by next spring. Hazelmere Lodge in Surrey, another privately operated assisted living facility for mental health with space for 33 residents, is slated to close alongside Buena Vista.

At Buena Vista, McLean has made a best friend in 72-year-old Karen Whittall, who's been a resident for 16 years.

The pair say they do everything together, and Whittall helps guide McLean, who has limited vision.

Whittall says when she moved into Buena Vista, she believed it would be her home for the rest of her life.

"When I first moved here, I was very, very, very depressed, and with the staff help and my psychiatrist, I have been able to [live] without very much depression," Whittall said.

Budget issues for owners

A Fraser Health spokesperson said the responsibility for closing Buena Vista and Hazelmere lies strictly with the owner-operators, who have ended their service agreements with the health authority.

"Fraser Health met with each owner to discuss their concerns and potential mitigation strategies to prevent these closures. However, both owners were firm in their decisions," Dixon Tam wrote in an email.

Buena Vista operator Meetu Achari declined to comment for this story.

Submitted by Bridget Coombs
Submitted by Bridget Coombs

But staff and family members say they've been told Fraser Health reduced the budget allocated to the home in March.

"Buena Vista can't be run on the budget they've been given," said Bridget Coombs, whose mother Magdalena has lived in the home for the last 13 years.

She said she worries her mom will be moved someplace where she won't be allowed the privacy of her own room.

"Buena Vista is not an institution. This is a home," Coombs said.

Funding now 'dedicated ... to other projects'

Family and staff also say the current owner-operators have asked about bringing in someone new to take over the lease, but that idea was shot down by Iain Nicol, manager for mental health and substance use at Fraser Health.

"We are not looking to review new operators for a program at BVL," Nicol wrote in an Oct. 5 email.

"The process we have embarked upon for bed replacement has dedicated our resources to other projects."

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC

Leona Dalton, a care worker at Buena Vista, says it's her understanding there are other operators who would be ready to take over the facility.

She says she's worked at other homes in the area that have been closed down, and it was very upsetting for residents, many of whom didn't know where they'd be living next until the last minute.

"We're scared not only for their mental well-being but for their physical well-being. They do not handle change well," Dalton said of the Buena Vista residents.

Fraser Health has yet to respond to questions about the funding cut or the decision not to bring in a new operator.

B.C. Liberal Trevor Halford, the MLA for Surrey-White Rock, recently raised the issue during Question Period at the legislature.

"My question was to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions [Sheila Malcolmson]: Why, at a time when we're in a mental health crisis, would it be acceptable at any time to close beds that are much needed — beds that have been used in this community for decades?" Halford said.

Malcolmson declined to comment for this story or to Halford, deferring questions to Fraser Health in both cases.