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Vancouver care centre celebrates 60th anniversary

Post-polio patient arrived in 1973
An "Iron Lung" from the 1950s is on display at the George Pearson Centre, which marks 60 years of helping patients who require specialized assistance for severe disabilities.

Residents and staff at the George Pearson Centre on West 57th Avenue are looking back to the 50s this week as they celebrate the centres 60th anniversary.

The centre opened in 1952 between Cambie and Heather streets as the Pearson Tuberculosis hospital, but has long since expanded to serve residents who require specialized assistance for severe disabilities. Anniversary celebration events include a soda shop party, a photo display and an open house.

One resident celebrating is Joy Kjellbotn, whos lived at the centre for 39 of Pearsons 60 years as a post-polio patient. Although shes had the opportunity to leave after becoming a permanent resident in 1973, she chose to stay.

After my family moved, siblings married and mom and dad retired, there were no accessible housing options at that time, said Kjellbotn, who was a patient at the facility in 1956. I came back here, and although I could have moved out since then, I havent. Ive chosen to stay here because I can relax.

Kjellbotn attended the celebrations soda shop party, held Tuesday, which brought in an Elvis impersonator.

One of the recreation staffs nephew is Ben Klein, who is an Elvis impersonator, said Sarah Wenman, a member of the Resident Council at the George Pearson Centre. He came today and they had milkshakes.

The main event open house was scheduled for Thursday, May 17, and was intended for people who have been involved with the centre, past or present, The gallery display is ongoing and includes photos and artifacts from Pearsons early days, with many of the pictures taken by former Pearson photographer Phil Goodis.

Because Pearson is so huge and has been around for so long, some stuff has not been thrown out, said Wenman. People in facilities and other departments gathered things from their dusty corners, then we pulled it all out and compiled it.

One of the items on display is a full-body heart and lung machine that helped patients like Kjellbotn. Due to much improved technology, she now has a compact ventilator and can leave the facility when she likes.

Although the centres longevity is a cause for celebration, the facilitys advanced age is something new manager Romilda Ang will likely have to deal with in the upcoming years.

Anna Marie DAngelo, senior media relations officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, said the health authority recognizes the facility is not meeting the needs of patients and should be replaced, but much more planning needs to be done.

For now, Ang said she hopes the next 10 years will bring more holistic care for the residents and a more home-like environment.

I think right now we do a wonderful job with their physical and medical needs, but Im not so sure were there yet in terms of meeting their psychological or their social or their emotional and spiritual needs, said Ang. Id like to see a place where residents feel really supported in all aspects of their needs.

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Twitter: @mickicowan