The official ribbon cutting for the expansion at Tsawaayuus (Rainbow Gardens) includes people from Island Health as well as the Westcoast Native Health Care Society. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Tsawaayuus-Rainbow Gardens opens first of two expansions in Port Alberni

12 new long-term care units are already occupied

Tsawaayuus (Rainbow Gardens) celebrated the opening of 12 new long-term care units on Friday, Oct. 25.

For Darlene Watts, from the Westcoast Native Health Care Society, the expansion is an extension of the original dream a group of First Nations residents had for a seniors’ facility in Port Alberni.

“The dream for them was to have a facility where they could have our people feel safe,” she said. “It took them a long time. It’s amazing they had the foresight to think that far into the future.”

“We’re very pleased to partner with the Westcoast Native Health Care Society and make more long-term care spaces available in the community,” said Leah Hollins, chair of the board for Island Health. “This is a unique facility designed to meet the needs of local residents and help more people stay in the community they love.”

“This place is about connections,” said NDP MLA Scott Fraser, who is also the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “Seniors get quality care in a home-like setting…I can see the caring in this place every time I walk through the doors.”

Work began on the expansion in October 2018 and finished in the summer. Residents have already moved into the new units.

Larry Hewson has lived at Tsawaayuus for just under a year; he moved into one of the new units in August, and smiles broadly when he talks about his new bariatric unit. “I was one of the first tenants here,” he said.

Hewson’s room has its own bathroom and lift for residents who use a wheelchair, like he does. The long window gives him a view of the vegetable garden and some of the trees, which were rich with fall foliage. He said the room is more comfortable because he has room to move around in his wheelchair.

Site manager Gerri Thomas said every room in the new unit has its own shower and bathroom. There are also three bath rooms with accessible tubs in the facility now, with lifts and high-tech temperature controls.

A new walkway has been built around Tsawaayuus that will link all the buildings. Fruit trees and berry bushes will be planted alongside the walkway so people will be able to pick fruit as they go for a walk, much like elders would have done in the forest.

The 12-unit expansion cost $3.8 million. The expansion brings the number of long-term care beds available in the Alberni Valley to 204.

This is only the first step of expansion for Tsawaayuus: 20 independent living units will be ready for occupancy on Nov. 1. Already 18 people are confirmed to move in.

“We still have two vacancies,” Thomas said. Occupants will be a mix of Nuu-chah-nulth and non Nuu-chah-nulth residents, she said: the housing is available to all seniors in the Alberni Valley.

Eight of the people expected to move into the new units are fluent speakers of Nuu-chah-nulth language and are excited to be able to socialize with one another at Tsawaayuus, she added.

The long-term plan for the independent units is that as residents age “some of the services provided here can be provided to them,” said Derek Appleton, chair of the building committee.

“It makes a good fit to have it close to the care facility. And we’re working on an expansion for another 40 units; it’s in the preliminary stages,” he added.

For now, Tsawaayuus has 42 units covered by Island Health and two privately run units.

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Larry Hewson was one of the first people to move into the new units. He says the larger room gives him more mobility. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

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