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Westshore foundation looking for practical solutions to health-care crisis

This story was originally published in The Westshore newsletter, Aug. 11, 2022. 

Dave Saunders is promoting a proposal for a healthcare support networks at a municipal level. (Image right: Royal Roads)

Dave Saunders is convinced local governments have more power than they realize to address the health-care crisis. A common refrain from municipalities is that the higher levels of government need to take more and quicker action. But Saunders, a former mayor of Colwood, local businessman, and president of the Saunders Family Foundation, says this crisis demands all hands on deck.

“We need to start thinking together and taking ownership of a shared responsibility for our health care, and not just pointing the finger at Island Health, at the province, or at the feds when there’s stuff that we can do on the ground right now,” he said.

Earlier this summer Saunders released a proposal of his vision for Westshore health care. Called the Community Healthcare Support Network, the basic idea is for municipalities to form a society that would run their own medical spaces and enact other policies that support health-care workers in the community.

Senior governments do control most of the purse strings, policy, and regulations, but municipalities can influence zoning, rent, housing, cost of living, amenities, and more.

In development permits, for example, municipalities could add health-care amenities to the list of incentives by offering bonus density allowances—allow a building to have more suites or be taller—if the developer builds a medical space for the municipality to rent and operate.

The rough outline of a plan has cooperation from Makola Housing, which Saunders invited specifically because of its success becoming a provincial resource for housing solutions. Why not expand those skills to health care? Langford Mayor Stew Young, some councillors in Sooke and Colwood, and, importantly, the premier have also heard the plan and given positive reactions.

Saunders met with Premier John Horgan and Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean—along with Kevin Alber, CEO of Makola Housing, and Mark Holland, a planning consultant hired to write the proposal. He wanted to know: would the NDP support an initiative like this?

“Unequivocally they said yes, [and went further saying] they want this implemented throughout Canada. They don't want to let the federal government off the hook in relation to the costs of healthcare, but they recognize that, incrementally, municipalities need to take more ownership in creating the supports necessary for our health-care system,” he said.

Saunders has been asked to speak to Central Saanich council next month.

“They have two developments right now and you can see the lights go on and the smiles on their faces that if they implemented some policy in relation to density bonusing, they could simply ask for a health-care amenity [from the developer],” he said.

That same council recently shot down a proposal from Coun. Gordon Newton that the municipality buy housing for healthcare workers to live in. Newton thought the initiative was one idea that could help Central Saanich attract doctors and nurses to practice in the District.

His fellow councilors thought the idea was not bad, but ultimately not the right mark.

“Do we have a doctor shortage? Yes. Is this the best way we can assist as a local government? I’m not convinced,” Coun. Carl Jensen said. “There are plenty of people working in our municipality that aren’t in healthcare who are struggling with housing.”

Local governments could also channel Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) toward housing for health-care workers, or promote housing agreements with developers that specifically benefit health-care worker housing, Saunders proposed.

Saunders looks at other sectors and the money that is spent attracting their professionals to the province, and wonders why health care doesn’t get the same attention.

“We have lots of plans for Beautiful BC tourism, or Canada tourism, or attracting the movie and film industry. However, we don't have a specific plan to retain, support, and attract doctors and nurses,” he said.