By Vanessa Hammond

I receive many phone calls and emails from people curious about the Victoria Health Co-op, so this month I am going to share some of the most frequent questions and answers with Beacon readers. If you have more questions, just call or email me.

What is the purpose of the Vic Health Co-op?

When we established the Co-op in 2008, we had two aims:

  • To provide Services to Members (the Monthly Members Wellness Clinic staffed by a group of alternative and complementary practitioners, payment by donation).
  • To provide Community Outreach programs. We have delivered “Back to Basics” at Central Middle School and “Choices” at Our Place, BC Housing locations, Saanich Public Library, First† Met United Church. Vic Health Co-op is the BC lead for the “Hans Kai” program for small groups to achieve and maintain wellness. We have worked with several community groups to help them start “Hans Kai” and have three more “Hans Kai” groups in the planning stage.

These Services to Members and Community Outreach programs are highly successful and are run by dedicated, hard-working volunteers.

What about the Co-op Health Centre at 547 Michigan?

In 2010 funding for the James Bay Community Project’s clinic was changed and this medical service for 5,000 people in the area was at risk. We, the Board of the Vic Health Co-op, with some trepidation but much community and member encouragement, decided to try to make it work.  This meant covering all the overhead and entering into contracts with the medical staff. 

Why can’t I get a doctor or nurse at the Co-op Health Centre?

Most days it feels as if all of the 25,000 people in the Victoria area who have no primary medical care provider want access to our Co-op Health Centre. We would love to be able to accommodate them all! The tough realities are that there is a chronic lack of MSP-funded medical practitioners in most of Canada and Victoria has one of the worst shortages. We have lost doctors due to retirement, illness and moves. This is a reality in almost every group practice. We are trying to access the services of a nurse. We would never want our medical practitioners to take so many patients that they become exhausted and cannot give good, safe care. We spend many dollars and a lot of volunteer time every month advertising, contacting doctors, medical associations etc. If you have some suggestions PLEASE let us know.

I’ve been coming to the “James Bay Clinic” for 40 years. Why do you call it a Co-op Health Centre? What do you mean by “join the Co-op?”

For many years the James Bay Community Project ran a Clinic in the building at 547 Michigan. In 2010 they decided they could no longer do this. They closed the Clinic. The Victoria Health Co-op rents the former Clinic space and operates the Co-op Health Centre. If we had not done this, 5,000 patients in James Bay and area would have lost their doctors. We cannot require anyone to join the co-op; this would violate International Co-op Principle #1 that membership must be open and voluntary. We cannot make membership in the Co-op a condition for access to a doctor. That would violate the Canada Health Act. But we still need you. We need your wisdom, energy, lifetime membership fee ($50) and, most of all, your encouragement. Running the Co-op takes work. It is easiest if shared among many members. Will you help, encourage and support us? 

Why are you not open in the evenings and weekends?

We are working on this. We have worked with the JBCP to submit a funding proposal to install an external door to replace one of the windows in the Co-op Health Centre waiting area. This would have separate security and would eliminate the need to have someone on duty at the main entrance. We won’t get a response to our application until March. Do you know someone who would make a donation to cover this cost? We would immediately be able to start providing Services for Members and Community Outreach whenever volunteers are available during evenings and weekends. We would also continue to work hard to provide MSP-funded coverage for extended hours.

Is ours the only Health, Wellness or Social Service Co-op in Canada?

No! There are over 110 Health, Wellness and Social Service Co-ops across Canada, serving over a million Canadians. Take a look at . The current estimate is that our sector serves over 300 million globally. 

Is everyone in the Co-op a volunteer?

The Board is entirely volunteer and provides all of the governance and management of the Co-op Health Centre as well as supporting the Services for Members. Volunteer complementary and alternative practitioners donate their time monthly for the Members’ Wellness Clinics. Volunteers run the Choices and Hans Kai programs. The doctors bill MSP for their work and the Medical Office Assistants are paid by the Co-op BUT we know that they all put in volunteer time even though they never talk about it. So, a big “thank you” to everyone for making this such an outstanding community asset.

How can I help?

We love to get this question. Some ideas are: serve on the Board of the co-op; help with social media; help to write this monthly column; get articles into the print media; help to keep the waiting area attractive and informative; help to organize a quarterly “meet and greet” for our neighbours, members and patients; most importantly, become a member-owner of the Victoria Health Co-op.

Yours co-operatively, Vanessa Hammond, President. 250.415.9272