Nearly 40 members of the Skeena Valley Seniors Society gathered on the sidewalk beside the Seven Sisters mental health residence and at the Sande Overpass the early afternoon of April 1 to gather support in their bid to save the structure from demolition.
A new and larger Seven Sisters residence is being built on the Mills Memorial Hospital property and the old Seven Sisters must come down to make room for the new Mills Memorial now well into construction, the Northern Health Authority has said. But the seniors society believes the current Seven Sisters can be saved and used for another purpose by changing the parking lot plans and the main and emergency entrances of the new Mills.
The April 1 demonstration came just one day after provincial health minister Adrian Dix weighed in on the controversy, repeating the Northern Health position that the current Seven Sisters must come down.
In responding to an email from the seniors society which indicated the building could be used as a hospice or for seniors housing, Dix said the layout and amenities don’t support such a change.
“The facility does not have any of the common spaces that support the needs of people requiring supported or assisted living services (e.g. kitchen, private bathroom) and to support those who may have equipment needs that cannot be accommodated in the space of the existing building,” Dix wrote.
Dix also noted that the footprint of the new Mills means the current Seven Sisters cannot stay.
“Keeping the existing Seven Sisters would have resulted in an inefficient design and layout for the new Mills Memorial Hospital,” Dix said of the new building which is longer than it is wider, following the size and shape of the property.
Dix repeated Northern Health’s previous position that the current Seven Sisters could not be moved to another location with damage to the structure and incurring extra cost.
He also confirmed the Northern Health position anything to change the current work plan and schedule as laid out in the contract with hospital builders PC Constructors Westcoast would “expose the project to substantial cost risk.”
Seniors society president Diana Penner said that while she appreciated Dix’s comments, he spent half of his three-page letter talking about the new Seven Sisters.
“But that’s not the point,” said Penner. “This is about saving a structure that has a use for something else.”
She and others at the demonstration said the current Seven Sisters would also make a good daycare centre for hospital staff.
“We hear that’s an issue. If the goal is recruitment and retention, a daycare would help,” said Penner.
In light of the Dix communique, Penner said the society board will meet to consider its next steps.