Courtenay, B.C., seniors home shutdown sparks scramble for beds

Operators announced closing of Abbeyfield House in Courtenay in July, citing inability to meet residents’ increasing care needs.

Shortage of residential care blamed as private charity closes 10-bed Abbeyfield House

Gladys Pollard, (with granddaugher Cindy Jacquier, left), had lived at Courtenay's Abbeyfield House for 12 years before she was forced to move because of its closure. (CHEK News)

A Courtenay advocacy group is hoping it's still possible to reopen a local supported residential facility for seniors.

Abbeyfield House, one of the few low-income retirement homes in Courtenay, closed its doors last month.

Jennifer Pass, coordinator of the advocacy group Elders Take Action, said the closure left seniors' advocates scrambling to find new beds for the elderly residents, amid a severe shortage of assisted and residential care spaces.

"Right now, it's a desperate, desperate situation," Pass told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. 

One advocate helped two of the former Abbeyfield residents move to Port Hardy, a three hour drive away, Pass said.

"They simply can't find a place to live in the Comox Valley."

Before Courtenay's not-for-profit Abbeyfield House closed last month, its 10 residents were placed in residential care and assisted living facilities. Two moved in with family members. (CHEK News)

When the operators of the private charity announced the closing date this summer, it was blamed on the shortage of assisted-living beds.

Robert Gunn, B.C. director of the Abbeyfield Houses Society of Canada, said too many seniors who need higher levels of care had remained at Abbeyfield House because there was nowhere else to go.

"We are sort of caught between the safety demands of our residents and, [to] some extent, our staff and the realities of the shortage of extended care beds," Gunn said.

Private charity not accountable to health authority

In a statement, Island Health said it has no control or jurisdiction over the operations of Abbeyfield House.

Pass said the facility's status as a small private charity is a challenge.

"They are a small board, providing independent housing. so it's not assisted living and it's not residential care," she said.

The Abbeyfield board was looking at proposals that would not involve seniors housing, Pass said. The Elders Take Action group submitted a proposal for preserving seniors housing but received a letter from the society's lawyer saying it was rejected, she said.

UK concept adopted internationally

Several other Abbeyfield Houses continue to operate in other B.C. cities, including Victoria, Vancouver, Duncan, Port Alberni and Vernon.

Abbeyfield Canada was an expansion of the British Abbeyfield model, which includes hundreds of homes in Britain and internationally.

The model includes independent bed-sitting suites and shared meals for residents. One staff person lives on the premises to provide meals and respond to emergencies.

A seniors advocacy group is hoping Abbeyfield House in Courtenay can still reopen as seniors housing. It closed last month after operators said they were unable to meet residents’ increasing care needs. 5:18

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island

Deborah Wilson