When the George Pearson Centre was built in 1952, it was intended as a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis.
More than six decades later, the institution, located on 25 sprawling acres of green, tree-covered land between 57th and 59th avenues and Cambie and Heather streets, houses 120 people with disabilities.
The building, along with the area around it, is slated for major changes as part of a redevelopment plan that is being called a first.
Vancouver Coastal Health’s proposal for the Pearson Dogwood Lands includes about 3,000 units of housing, a community health centre, park space, and a new Canada Line station on the corner of Cambie Street and 57th Avenue.
The health authority is also planning to leverage the land value to renew its facilities across the city.
“Through this development, we’re going to be able to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for reinvestment back into health care, which is absolutely unprecedented in Canada,” Brad Foster, a real-estate consultant to Vancouver Coastal Health on the project, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
The revenue will be directed, in part, toward rejuvenating the health authority’s residential-care facilities across the city. The Dogwood Lodge seniors’ facility will be redeveloped, and supportive housing will be distributed across the site for people with physical disabilities.
The new Dogwood facility will include what Foster estimates will be about 30 beds for people requiring around-the-clock medical care.
Those plans have drawn concerns from some advocates for people with disabilities, including Paul Caune, who lived in the Pearson Centre from 2005 to 2007. He now lives independently in an apartment in the Joyce Collingwood neighbourhood, and feels his situation demonstrates that people with acute, complex needs can be housed in the community.
Caune requires a ventilator and has support staff who come to his home each day to provide care, including getting him out of bed, preparing his meals, and doing his laundry.
“I can’t provide any of my personal-care needs, except feeding myself, and cleaning my teeth,” he noted in an interview with the Straight at his home. “So obviously–I think it’s obviously–someone with as equally complex needs or less than mine can live in the community.”
Caune noted that when he was a resident at the Pearson Centre, he was only able to get a shower once a week. Now he has one every day. He is also able to easily come and go from the accessible building, have family and friends by for visits, and determine his own care schedule.
“This place doesn’t smell like a hospital, it doesn’t look like a hospital,” he noted. “There’s no one in uniforms here. Because it’s not a hospital, and I don’t need a hospital unless I have an acute care emergency. I need a home with the personal care supports that allow me or anyone with a comparable disability to live with freedom and dignity.”
Ross Chilton, the executive director of Community Living Society, is also an advocate for providing people with disabilities support to live independently in the community.
The society houses about 300 people across the Lower Mainland who live in the community. Their housing includes group homes where up to four residents share supports, to independent living units where support workers come into their home.
Chilton described one site in Ladner that houses three people who were previously hospitalized.
“They have great staff that provide support, they get them out; they’re known at the grocery store,” he said in an interview. “Their needs are complex. These are not simple, straightforward needs. But they don’t require institutions. They don’t require a hospital.”
He added that the more people are congregated in one care setting, the less individualization there is.
"That's what of course happens in large institutional environments, is you have to eat when it’s determined it’s time to eat, and there’s only so much time to eat, and there’s only so many staff to feed," he stated.
"If you’re not hungry at that time, that’s still when you have to eat, because that’s meal time. None of us would tolerate that—why should people who happen to have developed or been born with a disability tolerate that?"
Christine Gordon, program consultant with the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, noted that some current residents at the Pearson Centre may opt to continue living in a facility where they can receive medical care 24 hours a day.
The coalition helped to organize the Pearson Residents Redevelopment Group, which has met several times with the planners for the redevelopment project.
“The reason that some of them will choose it is because they believe that their health needs are fragile enough to need that kind of care and attention,” she said in a phone interview.
“Others will want to choose housing that is more independent, as long as they can get enough home support to enable that to happen.”
She noted that a primary concern among current residents about the redevelopment is a fear of displacement.
“The residents, I think more than anything else, want to ensure that there’s a place for them somewhere on the land, for those who choose it,” she stated. “So Vancouver Coastal Health has said that they will make an individual plan with each resident at Pearson, so that they will have a choice of housing options.”
Foster said the new facility that will replace the Dogwood Lodge will be based on the “Green House Project” model, consisting of a network of smaller living areas featuring private bedrooms and bathrooms for tenants, and shared living, dining, and outdoor spaces.
“You’re not going to get these vast wards,” he said. “You’re going to have little neighbourhoods where people have their own sort of living and kitchen facilities, and they can get to know their neighbours. So it’s as homelike as possible.”
According to Foster, about a year and a half of consultations have taken place on the redevelopment proposal. The current residents of the Pearson centre are a “primary stakeholder” in the discussions, he noted.
“They’ve undergone their own planning, visioning over the years, and one of the things they really want to see is the integration of their lives into a normalized community,” he stated.
“Institutionalization for people with disabilities is really a thing of the past, and we want to move forward in that direction and make sure we’re providing housing for these people that’s much more independent, and is fully integrated into the community, with access to all the normal amenities that you and I would enjoy.”
Foster said teams have been put in place by Vancouver Coastal Health to work with each resident to determine their transition plan from Pearson.
The health authority is also preparing for the land use policy for the site to go before Vancouver city council in January 2014.
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs noted that members of the city’s persons with disabilities advisory committee still have a lot of concerns about the kind of accessible housing that will be provided as part of the project.
“I do think that Coastal Health is working hard to deliver an outstanding project here,” he noted. “At the moment though, there clearly needs to be more work done to sort out how that will be delivered. What it will look like, what the kind of funding support will be there, and so on.”
Jill Weiss, the chair of the advisory committee, noted that the right of people with disabilities to live in the community with the same range of choices and rights as any other citizen is recognized under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
“There’s lots of research showing that providing support in the community is usually the same or less expensive,” she added.
According to Meggs, some people on the committee fear a potential repeat of what happened to mental health services after Riverview Hospital closed.
“On the one hand, they’re anxious to see deinstitutionalization, and I think there’s a lot of sympathy for that view at Coastal Health. On the other, they want to be sure there’s appropriate support for people who need it when they’re in a more community-based setting.”
He added the issue is “uncharted territory”, in that while the advice of the advisory committee is needed, the city doesn’t make medical decisions or enforce them.
“I think from the public’s standpoint, what is proposed there is a very significant 10-year development of a lot of housing, that will have supportive housing elements in it and it’s affordable housing, and possibly a new connection on the Canada line,” he said.
“It’s a very big project, so it’s going to take some time to get it right, but the policy statement is the first stab at managing the nature of the housing that will be available for people with disabilities, and ensuring it continues to be available for them, and that it reflects the evolution of best practices over time.”
The housing mix proposed for the site includes 150 residential care beds, 93 units of supportive housing, 235 units of market rental, 65 homes for low-income seniors, 80 for low-income families, and 2,460 condo units.More