Between 1998 and 2001 community health organizations across British Columbia discussed how grow the sector. Between 2000 and 2002 a group of co-op developers and enthusiasts (Ian MacPherson, Vanessa Hammond and Chris Mather) invited the community to meet to discuss the potential for new co-ops in the Victoria area, the first of many events hosted by Fairfield United Church. The main areas of interest were agri-food and health. Several of us visited Health Co-ops and other community health organizations throughout BC.
In 2005 Chris and Vanessa were invited to make a “Co-ops 101” presentation in Vancouver. Three of the Victoria-based participants (Mark Sherman, Nicole Moen and James Christian) liked the co-op option. Through on-going community meetings members-to-be identified priorities for the new co-op. We discussed various names including: Victoria Health Care Co-operative, Victoria Health Co-operative and the Victoria Integrative Health Co-operative.
In April 2008 we incorporated and started to provide Services For Members. This was soon followed by Community Outreach. We planned to hold regular “Co-ops 101″ sessions for members and for all working in association with the Co-op.
The Co-op Health Centre
Many members of the Victoria Health Co-op were, by coincidence, either members of the James Bay Community Project or working there. We learned that the funding mechanism for the Project’s clinic was being changed and several of the doctors would leave. The Project decided it would no longer be able to operate the Clinic.
The member-owners of the Co-op knew that loss of these services would be a serious blow to the 5,000 patients, many of whom were frail and elderly. We obtained estimates of all the costs such as the cost of rent, phone system, computers, electronic medical records, medical supplies, cleaning, insurance, utilities, and salaries for the Medical Office Assistants, etc. We were given an estimate of the doctors’ billings and a commitment of the payments they would pay towards these services and facilities that they would use at the Co-op Health Centre. This study indicated that the Co-op Health Centre could be viable. At a General Meeting we, all of us, decided to rent the space and set up the Co-op Health Centre.
To avoid inconvenience to patients we opened the Co-op Health Centre without any hiatus in treatment. We know now that we should have allowed a gap. But we put service to patients ahead of optics. As a result, the wider community, and indeed some of the physicians, still do not understand that the Victoria Health Co-op “rescued” the health service.
We also learned quickly that we had been far too accepting of both the revenue and expenses numbers. Fortunately, the member-owners of the Co-op were dedicated to maintaining the services at the Co-op Health Centre. Although only a small number of us were patients at the Co-op Health Centre many members contributed personally, fund raised, kept the Co-op and its Health Centre visible in the local media and constantly wrote proposals for funding grants. We have kept the Co-op Health Centre operational, continuing to serve the patients despite the lack of adequate contribution to overhead by those working at the Health Centre. Those years were very stressful for the Board and the Medical Office Assistants. The story gets happier.
Now, in 2016…
The Co-op Health Centre is operating with an outstanding team of Medical Office Assistants led by an exemplary Manager. This team is the “face” of the Co-op Health Centre setting the friendly, calm, efficient atmosphere. A strong group of family physicians, led by a dedicated Medical Director, provides physical and mental health services under the Medical Services Plan of BC to our patients. Because of the Canada Health Act we cannot offer preferential access for our members to services that are funded through the Medical Services Plan. We cannot guarantee access to a medical practitioner through MSP. Any community member or member of the Victoria Health Co-op with questions about this is invited to talk with members of the Board of the Victoria Health Co-op. The Medical Office Assistants have no ability to change this law.
A group of complementary and alternative practitioners offers modalities outside the MSP system. These include cranio-sacral therapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, energy work and reflexology. Since the start of the Co-op Health Centre we have aimed to integrate these two forms of service. This is still a work in progress, as is our hope that all at the Co-op Health Centre would learn about our co-op structure and would become active members. But the key fact is that the Co-op Health Centre is a vital part of our Co-op, providing services to over 5,000 patients. We are working to expand the work of the Co-op Health Centre, possibility by adding a Nurse Practitioner and/or Registered Nurse.