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Gabriola built health centre on donations, determination

Apr 18 2012

Medical facilities are scattered across the Gulf Islands, but Gabriola Islanders believe they have something special.

The 9,000-square-foot building on Gabriola's Church Street, which is open for public tours Saturday, came about because many of the island's 4,200 residents contributed money to pay for construction. Even the land was donated by an Islander.

The Gabriola Community Health Centre "is nothing short of awesome," said Don Butt, a semi-retired physician and one of many residents who will benefit from the facility.

Residents spearheaded fundraising drives such as the "traditional" method of hitting up motorists for contributions as they parked in the ferry lineup, said Butt. There were also cycling competitions, ice cream sales and other activities.

Over three years, they raised $1.4 million to build the centre. Its replacement value is much higher, residents say.

The community-owned centre - Pender, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna islands also have locally-owned and operated medical clinics - has an urgent-care room with three beds, six examination rooms to accommodate three or more doctors, a nursing station, examination room for visiting specialists or counsellors and room to expand.

Urgent care includes unexpected births, the stabilization of broken bones and timely treatment of those who have suffered heart attacks and strokes. A helicopter pad is on site for patients who need immediate treatment at major hospitals elsewhere.

The island has been served since June 2007 by a smaller "interim" clinic with physicians adept at handling emergency cases.

Those needing additional medical treatment have, over the years, been transferred by coast guard auxiliary, harbour patrol vessels and B.C. Ferries.

The new clinic means elderly people will be able to stay on the island longer, said the 79-year-old Butt, who retired to Gabriola 16 years ago.

Bruce Mason, an islander for 10 years, used to look at Gabriola Island from his office at the University of B.C. He was one of a half-dozen people who formed a society with the aim of establishing a clinic.

In 2007, the society swelled in ranks and its members raised $30,000 to get an interim clinic operating. By 2010, they had raised $1 million. The Vancouver Island Health Authority also chipped in $100,000.

U.S. veterinarian and part-time resident Robert Rooks contributed a couple of hectares of centrallylocated land.

Public tours will take place at the new clinic from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. The health centre is expected to officially open in early August.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com