A rumour of a possible move of the Armstrong Lions Vision Centre in the Pleasant Valley Health Centre to Vernon Jubilee Hospital was like a punch in the eye for the Armstrong Lions Club.
Club president Diann Boyd heard about the rumour and immediately sent out a letter to Dr. Richard Harding, acute health service administrator for hospitals and communities in the North Okanagan for Interior Health, informing Harding the Lions Club wishes to see the centre stay in Armstrong for many years to come.
“It disappoints and concerns us that we found out about discussion to remove this clinic from rumour,” said Boyd. “Although we have been assured that ‘they are trying to find a solution and moving would be a last resort,’ and that ‘senior leadership meet with us prior to finalizing any plan,’ we hope that you will take seriously our deep concern that this is even being discussed and considered.”
Harding wrote back that the vision centre “is currently experiencing a shortage of anaesthesiology resources,” and that the shortage is being experienced across Interior Health, throughout B.C. and Canada. Interior Health, he said, has managed to find interim coverage.
“However, this is not a sustainable option and gaps in coverage have the potential to cause postponement of surgical cases,” said Harding. “I want to assure you that we are working diligently with our physicians to reduce the impact to patients and to develop the best possible solution to continue to provide sustainable safe patient care.”
Harding said he’s “acutely aware of the potential impact this information may have on the valued relationship with the Lions Club as a key stakeholder in the Lions Vision Centre,” and that he does not want to cause any undue stress to the club or the wider community.
He said a move of the centre to VJH is, in no way, a done deal.
“While it is possible that relocation to Vernon may be required to sustain service for local patients, I want to stress that no decision has been made and our preference is certainly to find a way to keep the service in its current location,” said Harding. “Interior Health has a formal policy of consultation with third party donors and we will make certain the necessary collaboration with the Lions Club takes place if a need to relocate appears unavoidable.”
Prior to his letter, said Boyd, there had been no consultation whatsoever with the Lions Club, and the first the club heard of a potential move was through word of mouth. The club, she said, was never invited to consultations to talk about a potential move.
“That’s disturbing,” said Boyd, who pointed out Armstrong got creative with the Haugen Health Centre to retain doctors in the community, and she sees no reason that same creativity can’t be used to keep the vision centre in Armstrong.
The vision centre opened in 2001. Four years earlier, Dr. Mathias Fellenz identified a need to have an eye clinic under one roof and approached several individuals to help create his vision. One such individual was Armstrong Lions Club member Tom Nordstrom, who undertook the project and, the result of his devotion to the cause, was building the vision centre at the Pleasant Valley Health Centre.
“Without argument, the vision centre has become a world-class facility treating the residents of the North Okanagan and beyond, providing treatment to children and adults,” said Boyd.
Nine Lions Club from the Okanagan regional, Lions International and the Interior Eye Society that was formed, dedicated to solely raising funds for the centre, helped raised nearly half a million dollars for the centre by 2011. They left legacy donations dedicated to the ongoing needs for equipment.
In December 2017, the vision centre was the beneficiary of a new argon laser, which saw Lions Clubs from Armstrong, Lumby, Vernon and Sicamous, along with support from the Armstrong Spallumcheen Health Auxiliary and Royal Canadian Legion Branch 35, respond to a financial request from the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation for the laser.
The groups raised $108,400.
“That request stated that there was no money in the budget to replace an antiquated piece of equipment, and without our support, that piece of equipment would not be available to the residents of our communities,” said Boyd. “Within eight months of the request, we presented a cheque to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation and the new argon laser was purchased and is in service today.”
The centre currently has three ophthalmologists operating out of the facility, three from Vernon and one from Salmon Arm.
The Enderby Lions Club is spearheading an information rally that will take place at the Pleasant Valley Health Centre in Armstrong at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 29.