COMMENTARY: VCC’s sacred site remains, purposed to serve those in need

Former executive director of VCC reflects on recently announced closure.

(Courtesy Photo) Verna Everitt

(Courtesy Photo) Verna Everitt

I was deeply saddened and disappointed to hear the news that the island’s only senior care facility was closing.

For nearly one hundred years the land on which Vashon Community Care sits has served, in one form or another, as a home for Vashon’s aging population in need of care.

In 1928, Goodwill Industries purchased the property known as the Ellsworth Ranch and established a working farm and boarding house for homeless men. As the men aged, they became more frail and unable to care for themselves. In stepped the ranch’s new owner, Nell Herbert. From 1944 until 1957, the farm was known as Herbert’s Boarding House. Nell took the men into the “big house,” made a home for them and made them a promise she would tend to their needs until the day they died.

As the years went on, and Nell eventually passed, the big house still remained a home for island seniors. Jim and Judy Alexander carried on Nell’s good work, and in 1966, the old Ellis Ranch became known as Island Manor. Inevitably, as time moved forward, the house truly wore itself out and the state deemed it unfit to remain a proper care facility.

That’s when a group of island leaders stepped in with a vision and a dream, to continue using the land to care for Vashon’s elderly population. Attorneys Ted Clabaugh and Ted Kutscher, together with the Aspiris, the Beardsleys, and so many others, got to work imagining how they could build a modern facility. These folks were the original guarantors who saved the day, and three days before Christmas — with the threat of those residents being kicked out — the last guarantor stepped in with the funds needed to build a better home. This became known across the island as “The Christmas Miracle.”

With a reprieve from the state, Island Manor was still able to operate while the new building was being built, and in 1995, Vashon Community Care opened its doors with 30 skilled nursing beds and a remarkable home for 39 assisted living residents.

For many years, Providence Hospital administered VCC and from the get-go, budget shortfalls were a reality. As Nell made a promise to those destitute men, Providence also allowed residents who ran out of funds and had only Medicare to rely on to stay on at VCC. Money was raised to make up the difference but it was never quite enough.

In 2015, VCC formed the Vashon Community Care Foundation to exclusively focus on fundraising for that shortfall. I was privileged to serve as the foundation’s executive director from 2015 to 2018. In my last year at the foundation, we raised more than $600,000, and yet, that was still not enough to cover the gap. At the end of 2017, VCC was acquired by Transforming Age. With its best foot forward, Transforming Age invested in much-needed capital projects, reimagined the business model — and still the model was unsustainable.

So here we are today sitting with this terrible news. VCC is closing yet the land remains, if you will, sacred – purposed to carry on the mission that began nearly one hundred years ago.

I know there are many on Vashon who have worked tirelessly for affordable housing. It’s now time to bring them together with the guarantors of tomorrow to reimagine a sustainable model. Perhaps a model that includes intergenerational housing where both young employees of Vashon’s many businesses as well as seniors who desperately need reduced rent, could live together under one big roof.

Can VCC be used for such mixed housing? Of course, it can. I also believe with all the home care options on the island, some of the current VCC residents may be able to stay. I might be dreaming or I might be looking for another Christmas miracle.

Verna Everitt, a third-generation islander, now lives on Whidbey Island, where she is the executive director of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. She served as the executive director of the Vashon Community Care Foundation from 2015 to 2018.

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