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On-site health care, free food makes life easier for residents of Surrey towers

Novel programs serve those in need at Options-operated Ted Kuhn Towers
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Krupen Shah manages the new pharmacy at Ted Kuhn Towers supportive housing complex in Whalley. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Food, pharmaceuticals and paramedicine services are being delivered to some of the more than 400 residents of Surrey’s Ted Kuhn Towers.

Options Community Services operates the landmark social housing complex, located on the western edge of Holland Park, on Old Yale Road.

The tallest tower was built in 1972, the extension in 1976.

“BC Housing owned and operated it for many years,” noted Joe Woodworth, senior manager with the non-profit Options, which took over in 2016.

“It’s a landmark, for sure,” he added. “The tower was the first highrise on this side of the Fraser River. I grew up just blocks from here, and because it was such a big deal, a highrise coming to Surrey, we used to come watch it being built.”

Woodworth offered more history about the place.

“Ted Kuhn was a councillor in Surrey back in the day, an alderman, and he campaigned to get some money to build a seniors facility because there weren’t that many in Surrey.”

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Ted Kuhn Towers supportive housing complex in Whalley is operated by Options Community Services. (Photo: Google.com)

Today, Woodworth welcomes novel things happening at Ted Kuhn Towers, where residents have access to free food through the Food Mesh program, can visit a community paramedicine clinic and also get prescriptions filled at a new Healthcare Pharmacy, down the hall from the clinic.

“There’s a great need for these programs here,” Woodworth said. “There are a lot of seniors here and people who have mobility and medical issues, low income. Sometimes they can’t get out to get medications or see a doctor, or have difficulty buying food. Bringing these things here, we’ve built a lot of really good partnerships, a lot of hands making it all work.”

The just-opened pharmacy brings prescription medicine and vaccinations to the ground floor of a building where people live, saving them time and effort.

“This will operate seven days a week, daytime hours to start, from nine to five,” explained Krupen Shah, pharmacy manager. “It’s full-service pharmacy for regular prescriptions, blister packaging, compounding, travel vaccinations, flu vaccines, COVID vaccines, all those things.”

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Community paramedic Chris Michel at Ted Kuhn Towers supportive housing complex in Whalley. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

For a couple of years the community paramedicine clinic, or CP@ Clinic, has helped residents of Ted Kuhn. For a few hours every Wednesday, community paramedics conduct health assessments and give health advice.

“We deal with a lot of chronic disease management,” explained Chris Michel, community paramedic with BC Emergency Health Services.

“It’s kind of like a walk-in medical clinic,” he added, “and what we do is more preventative. We’ve seen a significant reduction in ambulance calls here. There are a lot of vulnerable folks who live here, and this has been a higher-call-volume location for us, responding to calls. We thought, why not try and do some preventative care and see if it makes any impact, and it has.”

Community paramedics work mostly in rural and remote communities of the province, Michel noted.

“This is the first time we’ve done it in an urban setting in B.C.,” he said. “We currently reach around 20 per cent of people of the buildings, around 80 people who visit us. It has been life-changing for a lot of them, and it saves money in the health care system.”

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Divender Rai helps run the Food Mesh program for the Options-operated Ted Kuhn Towers supportive housing complex in Whalley. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Down the hall from the clinic, residents gather fruit, vegetables, baked goods and other perishables from tables set up for the Food Mesh program, designed to minimize food waste and reduce food insecurity.

“We run this program every day, Monday to Friday,” said Divender Rai, senior property manager. “In a van we pick up around 100 kilograms of food from the Fleetwood Save-On-Foods store.”

The program is great, she says, “because residents don’t have to go to the food bank or wait in long lines, they just show up here, have food they can eat right away or stock up for another day.

“We limit how much each person can take so everyone has an opportunity to get some food,” Rai added. “We’ve also noticed that there are some groups of people, neighbours and friends, who’ll come together, get their food, mix and match, and make dinners together. It’s very communal in that way.”

With rent geared to income of residents, Ted Kuhn is full with a wait list, says Woodworth, who is working on other programs including cooking classes.

“We’re building this mobile cooking unit to wheel out in this (recreation) room here,” he said. “There’s a camera that comes over the top, and whatever the teacher is doing, we’ll show it on the screen. We’ll teach people knife skills, how to cut vegetables without cutting your fingers, cooking techniques and things like that.

“Ultimately it’s about teaching people how to eat a little healthier, too, and also be more fiscally efficient with food, to make meals stretch,” Woodworth added. “We have a lot of people here that in the last couple of days in the month, they’re not eating so well because they don’t have enough money left to stretch the grocery budget. So every little bit we can do helps to get them out of that.”



Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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