This report covers the period since my last report of September 2022. Meadowbrook maintained near 100% occupancy throughout the reporting period. No disruptions to service occurred and there were no matters of concern to report to the GISRA membership.
The last report highlighted the unusually high number of 12 residents leaving Meadowbrook, double the average for a year. In the 8 months since that report the turnover is just 3. This shows a welcome return to, what we consider, a normal change-over rate.
COVID struck again in early January after a particularly successful New Year’s Eve party. I lost count of how many residents were infected but guess between 40%-60% of the population. Happily, no one seemed to suffer too badly and when I asked everyone later if the party had been worth the pain, I received a resounding YES!
I am pleased to report that the high staff turnover rate experienced in recent years has ceased. There’s been just two changes; Jane, our long-time lead dining room server, party organizer and all-round good person, retired at the end of the year. At the aforementioned party! Jane was replaced by Warren. We now have an all-male dining room serving team…probably a first for Meadowbrook.
A much-needed part-time maintenance person, Tom, was added to the team. Maintenance manager, Annette, has switched from a five to a four-day week and Tom has taken over that day. However, as there’s a backlog of work and as many tasks need two people Tom and Annette frequently work together. A stimulus for recruiting Tom was the extra work of maintaining facilities at Kings Lane.
GISRA’s Kings Lane property, purchased for the planned 50-unit Meadowlane project, also includes the Salt Spring Island Health Center. Rental income from the SSI Health Center building covers mortgage payments for the whole property. For this reason, income from the BC Housing lease for part of the Meadowlane site can be used for other purposes. Late in 2022 the BC Housing lease was extended to include most or 2024 and GISRA’s monthly income was raised by 80% above the earlier agreement. We plan to use this ‘windfall’ income to renovate the original 1950’s part of the Meadowbrook building. It’s nice to know that the money from BC Housing will be used to make more housing available.
BC Housing’s temporary housing complex at Kings Lane has maintained an occupancy level of between 8-10 residents and staff since the fall of 2022. The complex is designed to house up to 20 individuals. GISRA has taken on the challenging task of the operational management of the facility [not the residents]. ‘Challenging’ because the complex, after 20-years of hard use as a drilling camp, was not in good working condition when it was installed on Salt Spring. Further to this, being temporary, providing the water a sewage services to the complex has proved difficult. Sewage is trucked out every few days. Water is currently provided, on a month-to-month basis, by a North Salt Spring Water Works connection. As there is a constant threat of this supply being turned off, I am working to initiate the use of an on-site well.
We have granted Men’s Shed, a new charity organization on Salt Spring, free temporary use of the old unused workshop building at Kings Lane. We hope this will allow Men’s Shed the time to develop their program on SSI. They already have over 100 members and their programs seem particularly synergistic with the residents of Kings Lane.
As reported previously, the proposed Meadowlane building was significantly redesigned to reduce construction costs without losing its utility. Cost estimating for the new design showed savings but due to inflation the savings were not significant enough to make moving ahead with the project obviously good business sense. Work to fully assess if construction and financing costs can be covered by potential income is on-going. This work should be completed by early July.
While the delay of the Meadowlane project is frustrating it will allow time for GISRA to reassess needs for senior’s housing on Salt Spring.
In my last report I detailed the renovation work planed for the original 1950s section of the Meadowbrook building. At that time, however, it was unclear where funding to continue the project would come from. As mentioned above, funds from the Kings Lane lease have now been earmarked to cover this project. During initial demolition work, material known to sometimes contain asbestos was discovered and the project halted. A survey revealed that gypsum board and insulation throughout both floors contained asbestos. This was unexpected. I assumed the building, having been drastically modified just 20 years ago, would have had all asbestos removed at that time. The work to remove all asbestos is underway and should be completed by late May. I anticipate the full cost of the renovations, to both floors, will be recouped by increased rental income in under 4 years.
The ventilation and the domestic hot water systems at Meadowbrook are near or beyond serviceable use and need replacing. As both systems use Propane gas, I have applied to BC Hydro to fund the upgrades to electrical systems as a ‘Low Carbon Electrification Project’. This is a new BC Hydro program designed to reduce greenhouses gases. I anticipate GISRA receiving over $100,000 from Hydro towards these upgrades. The new electrical systems will be less expensive to operate than Propane-fueled systems.
Above I report on practical ‘nuts and bolts’ issues regarding the condition of and services at GISRA’s various facilities. Elsewhere in the information package our CFO will provide details of GISRA’s financial health, which incidentally is good. Obviously, these are necessary things critical to GISRA’s continued existence however, I don’t want them to overshadow the reason we are here.
GISRA’s mission is ‘to provide one or more not-for-profit affordable residential facilities for low- and moderate-income seniors on Salt Spring Island’. At the moment we fulfill this mission by providing Meadowbrook, an Independent Living seniors residence. ‘Independent Living’ means residents must be able to take care of their own needs. If a resident can no longer look after themselves then Meadowbrook is not a suitable home for them. The most difficult part of our work at Meadowbrook is seeing the decline in residents and, at the time of their greatest need, suggesting they need to move away.
Salt Spring’s demographics make it clear that seniors here want to stay in their own homes until, due to declining health, they cannot. At which time Independent Living is often not an option. Empirically we know this is true because GISRA maintains a waiting list of over 50 people. These people are hoping one day to move into our Independent Living facility, some of the names have been on the list for many years. When a suite becomes available, starting at the top, wait listers are offered the suite. Invariably we are beyond halfway down the list and often at the bottom, with the new entrants, before we get a taker. On the other hand, we regularly receive calls from people urgently needing Assisted Living. Given this reality and national statistics that suggest Salt Spring may already have sufficient Independent Living facilities for seniors, I believe we must carefully reexamine plans for Meadowlane. For example, should it be all or part Assisted Living? If so, what is the current need in terms of numbers? Should the design incorporate all the above needs but also be able house non-seniors if necessary to fill units? These are all question the GISRA board, staff and outside experts will be grappling with in the coming months.
In closing, I want to thank the GISRA board of directors and the staff for their hard work a good nature. All so important in making working for GISRA enjoyable.
Submitted, May 12, 2023 by Harry Barnes,
Executive Director, GISRA