A Brief History

In 2011, Mayor John MacDonald held a meeting at the Heritage Hall as part of a long-running campaign to establish a Medical Clinic in Sayward. Earlier efforts had been unsuccessful, but forty people attended Mayor MacDonald’s meeting and, after hearing that the formation of a non-profit society was the final hurdle, Aggie Pringle, Angie Hayward (now Hibbert), Lisa LeSigne, Eve Hrybko, and Pat Rusch stepped forward to start the Sayward Community Health Society (SCHS).

Following the move of the Village Office into the Kelsey Centre, the old village-office building was offered for Clinic space. With volunteer labour using donated materials, the Society began renovations to make the building suitable for a medical facility, and the Society started raising money to pay for utilities. The community came forward in droves offering everything from cash donations, to internet service, office supplies, and art work for the walls. At this time the Society received no outside funding.

A five-year lease agreement with a five-year permissive tax exemption was struck between the Society and Village for $1 and the Village picked up all the running costs for the Clinic’s first year of operation. The running costs were then taken over by the Society, but the Village continues to provide external structural maintenance and substantial other help.

The next hurdle was to get recognition as a Clinic with the Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital District (CSRHS). Accomplishing this took several meetings between Mayor MacDonald, Sayward’s Chief Administrative Officer, and VIHA (now Island Health), followed by more meetings with Premiers Gordon Campbell and Christie Clarke, the Ministry of Health, and the Comox-Strathcona Hospital District.

The final result was the recognition of the Clinic within the hospital district and under the Provincial Hospitals Act. The Mayor also secured $2,500 per annum for operating costs from the CSRHD (later increased to $5000 per annum). During this time, the Society solicited community advice on services they would like to see offered at the Clinic, and, in January 2012, over eighty people attended the Clinic’s Grand Opening.

Because the Clinic now officially existed, discussions continued, with VIHA agreeing to provide a Nurse Practitioner three days a week. The Society was involved in the hiring process, which resulted in a job share between Laura Koop and Fran Chiste, who started in August 2013. It soon became clear that the Clinic was too busy for them to be working less than five days a week. VIHA was approached again and, with the help of Area Manager Enid O’Hara, their schedules were changed.

At this time, the Society learned it was entitled to some payment from VIHA towards the running costs. Next came Medical Assistant Crystal Harris-Johnson (paid for by VIHA), computer support, and custodial staff (paid for by the Society), which relieved the Nurse Practitioners from administrative work and the Board from custodial duties.

Fund raising continued with help from the Community, Sayward Council, and the Strathcona Regional District, allowing for the purchase of a centrifuge for lab services, a twelve-lead ECG machine, a lab chair, a new computer system, and bio-hazard resistant flooring. The Society continued to make extensive renovations to the Clinic, including the new reception area, second examination room, NP kitchen area, and a separate blood processing room. The majority of this work was done on a volunteer basis by Dan Fear, whom the Board cannot thank enough. The village spruced up the grounds and, after the Society chose colours for the new Clinic, village staff painted the exterior.

Visiting Practitioners sourced by the Board were invited to come to Sayward. These Practitioners, who arranged their visits to meet the needs of the community, continue to make their own appointments and contribute to the Clinic’s running costs. Currently, these include a Physician, a Public Health Nurse, and a Mental Health and Substance Use Counsellor. The Clinic is very lucky to now have Nurse Practitioner Tracey Payne, who took over from the previous job share arrangement.

The Sayward Clinic is a ground breaker in that it is a Community Clinic, run by the Society, not a faceless bureaucracy, on the community’s behalf. The down side of this is that the Society is responsible for the running costs of the Clinic, as Island Health and Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District contributions do not cover them.

The Society has obtained charitable status, and charitable tax receipts for donations over $25 can now be issued. As Medical facilities and operating costs are often specifically excluded from grant applications, the SCHS continues to depend on community support to upgrade the Clinic and pay the bills.

The SCHS Board thanks everyone who has supported and continues to support this much needed addition to our wonderful community.