Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has won a major legal battle to force the Town of Comox to honor trust agreements with the famous naturalist


AB.C. Supreme Court judge has facilitated an agreement so the Mack Laing Heritage Society can present its evidence in a case that will decide the future of the famous ornithologist’s iconic home and clarify the status of his trust agreements.

In a hearing in Nanaimo this week (April 17), Justice Douglas W. Thompson asked lawyers for the town and the B.C. Attorney General’s office why they objected to the court hearing the “armful of evidence” submitted by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS).

Justice Thompson then pointedly asked the Attorney General’s representative how she could fulfill her obligations as a “defender of public trusts” without all the information in the case.

And he asked the town’s lawyer, of the Vancouver-bassed Young Anderson law firm, what questions the town did not want MLHS to ask in court.

By the end of the five-hour court session, the town’s lawyer and the AG’s office had agreed to grant intervenor status to the MLHS with “no restrictions whatsoever” on the evidence the society can introduce into the proceedings, which will be held in late May.

It was a major win for the MLHS and a defeat in round one for the Town of Comox.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses: we misspent Laing’s money; Link to all Shakesides stories

The town has petitioned the court to vary the terms of the Mack Laing trusts — there are three — in order to demolish Laing’s heritage home, which he willed to the town, and use the money Laing also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed naturalists intended.

The MLHS had sought official standing in the case. “Standing” meant that the society could introduce nine affidavits totally about 500 pages of evidence that purport to negate the basis of the town’s petition, and, if successful, could have recovered its legal costs from the town.

Local builder Bunker Killam, who rented Shakesides for the first nine years after Laing’s death, sets up croquet in the front yard. Killam said the house was in good condition while he lived there.

By granting the MLHS intervenor status with “no restrictions,” Justice Thompson has cleared the way for the court to consider all of the society’s evidence. But if MLHS succeeds in defeating the town’s petition, it will not be able recover its court costs.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen said, “”Had we been offered this deal months ago, we would gladly have taken it. All we wanted was the chance to present the evidence we have collected from a wide array of sources and individuals, together with the historical facts from these sources, seen through different eyes, plus ask questions in order to get answers from town officials.

“The justice recognized the value of these different documents early, and made it clear that he did not see why this information should not be at the disposal of the court?,” Nielsen said. “Now our 11 affidavits and 120 or so exhibits are fully vested in the upcoming Supreme Court Hearing.”

According to Nielsen, the “genius of Justice Thompson” showed up in the last half hour of the April 17 court session, when he maneuvered the proceedings around with “carrot and stick tactics” to bring about a conclusion, surely saving a full day of court time from playing out.

“It was all done with one question (to the Town of Comox and the AG representative),” Nielsen said. “What question is it you want the society NOT to ask?”

Asked if he cared to comment on the outcome of the court session, Comox Mayor Paul Ives said, “Not really — the matter has been adjourned to the week of May 28 in Nanaimo.”

There could still be a mediated settlement in the case if the town decides to cap its incurred legal expenses — speculated to be heading toward $75,000.

And it’s still unclear whether the MLHS, or other community organizations or individuals, could file civil lawsuits against the town for breaches of trust.

Background of the case

The town has petitioned the court, under a specific section of the Community Charter, to vary the “terms applicable to money held in trust if a municipal council considers the terms or trust to no longer be in the best interests of the municipality.”

MLHS wants the court to see painstakingly detail how the town has misspent Laing’s money, disregarded the intention of his three trusts over a 36-year period and misstated facts to the court corroborated by its own documents.

The town passed a resolution 32 days after Laing’s death in February of 1982 to rent Shakesides and several months later, in August, started spending the rent money and interest earned on Laing’s cash gift on items beyond the scope of the trust agreements.

One pressing issue is whether the town can demolish Laing’s home, which he gave to the Comox community for the purpose of establishing a natural history museum.

But MLHS also wants the court to order a forensic audit of the Laing trusts.

MLHS contends the town has misstated the amount of cash Laing left them after his death in February of 1982 and that the trust today should be worth up to nearly $500,000.

Can Shakesides be restored?

According to Guerdon “Bunker” Killam, a developer and home builder, who lived in Shakesides for nine years, from 1982 to 1990, the house was in good condition when he moved in and he continued to improve it during his tenure.

Killam said Shakesides is “a very well built small house in excellent condition.”

But during the town’s 36-year stewardship, the house’s conditions has declined. The town even rejected an offer by MLHS to provide free labor to install a waterproof covering over the leaking roof until the court is settled.

Meanwhile, a number of Comox Valley businesses have added their names to the list of those willing to donate time and/or services to renovate Shakesides.

According to Gordon Olson, a friend of Laing in his latter years, Lacasse Construction has committed to donating some work to restoring the house. Comox Valley architect Tom Dishlevoy will donate some design work, and Three Oaks Flooring will donate labor for refinishing the house’s wood floors.

Masonry trades people and window specialists have also made commitments.



Managing urban deer is a local problem, not a provincial one

Managing urban deer is a local problem, not a provincial one

Provincial ministry confirms: province has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer. Comox Valley elected officials ignore problem while Oak Bay and Haida Gwaii take action


[dropcap}Q[/dropcap]uestion: What do the City of Oak Bay and the islands of Haida Gwaii NOT have in common with the Comox Valley?

Answer: They have recognized the problems caused by an excessive quantity of deer and have taken actions to reduce their deer populations.

The Comox Valley has done nothing.

Meanwhile, the federal government will spend $5.7 million over the next three years on a program that will eradicate deer from six islands in Haida Gwaii, and
Oak Bay will spend $40,000 on an experimental program to put some of its urban deer on birth control.

But Comox Valley governments have allowed their urban deer populations to expand, partly because elected officials cling to the erroneous notion that managing the animals is a provincial responsibility.

A Comox Valley Regional District representative has told Decafnation that deer are a provincial problem, and Comox Mayor Paul Ives repeated this misinformation on Facebook recently.

So Decafnation contacted the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations and Rural Development. Here’s what they said:

“According to section 2 (1) and 2 (5) of the Wildlife Act, all wildlife is owned by the government, but no right of action or compensation exists against the province for death, personal injury or property damage,” a ministry representative wrote via email.

“So, while the province owns the deer, it has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer populations toward objectives established by local governments.”

But the province encourages local governments to develop detailed deer management plans, and it partners with local governments to facilitate and develop socially acceptable urban deer management solutions.

FURTHER READING: Ottawa spends $5.7 to eradicate deer in Haida Gwii; Oak Bay to issue deer contraceptives

If any Comox Valley municipality developed a deer management strategy the province would provide technical advice, regulatory authority, necessary permits, specialized equipment and other management tools.

And, in 2016, B.C. launched an urban deer management program, which provides $100,000 each year to help fund community-based urban deer management projects.

The funding follows up on the province’s pledge – made at the 2015 Union of BC Municipalities annual convention – to set aside annual funding for urban deer mitigation. The province is helping to fund Oak Bay’s program.

That makes it clear that local governments must initiate strategies to manage its deer populations, and the province will help with resources and funding.

So why are Comox Valley governments ignoring this problem?

Gardeners lose thousands of dollars worth of plants to the voraciously hungry deers, and spend thousands more on fencing and other methods to deter them. Farmers have lost crops. Motorists have collided with deer.

Deer attract dangerous animals. Deer make up about 95 percent of a cougar’s diet, and are lured into the urban area by the easy prey of unwary deer. The area conservation officer reports frequent cougar sightings in the Valley.

Letting the deer population go unchecked raises the risk of spreading Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. While reported cases of Lyme disease are not as prevalent here as in the Lower Mainland and other areas, a high density of deer means more ticks and a greater risk.

What Oak Bay is doing

The city recently put radio collars on 20 does to track their movements and better understand the deer population. The next step is to administer an immunocontraceptive vaccine, Zonastat-D, either by hand or via a darting rifle.

While the current version of the drug remains effective for up to 22 months, scientists are working on a vaccine that would work for up to seven years.

What’s going on in Haida Gwaii

Deer were introduced to the Haida Gwaii archipelago in 1880 by the B.C. Game Commission. They have since spread to all of the region’s 200 islands.

“The deer don’t have any predators so there’s no real control for their hyper abundance and they’re beginning to damage the ecosystem in an almost irreparable way,” a Parks Canada resource management technical told CBC news.

Professional sharpshooters have been hired to kill the deer and train young islanders to assist in the eradication.

The deer meat will be distributed for hot lunch programs throughout Haida Gwaii.

Who to call

If individual deer are an immediate threat to human safety, the Conservation Officer Service will respond. These instances should be reported to the RAPP line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.

To encourage local governments to develop deer management programs, call Comox Town Hall (339-2202) , Courtenay City Hall (334-4441) or the Comox Valley Regional District (334-6000).


Mayor criticizes the focus of mayoral candidates

Mayor criticizes the focus of mayoral candidates

Mayor Larry Jangula says the candidates’ focus on their political careers, not city business, has caused discord and promoted electioneering


Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula has accused the three incumbent council members seeking to replace him of “electioneering” during City Council meetings.

Jangula says Erik Eriksson, David Frisch and Bob Wells should focus on city business, not their political careers.

“I have already seen signs of electioneering at our council meetings and it is causing a distraction,” Jangula told Decafnation in a written statement.

“Not to mention that it is most unfortunate that these councillors are focusing on their political careers and not on city business, especially at this time of year when important matters like budgets, taxes and service fees are being decided,” he said.

It’s unusual for incumbent council members to challenge a sitting mayor, unless decisions or personalities have caused a major disagreement. It’s open season, however, if the incumbent mayor is retiring.

But Jangula says he hasn’t decided whether to seek re-election.

“My energies are being focused on the issues that impact the community and the taxpayers,” he said. “I will decide at a more appropriate time if I will be seeking re-election and I have no further comment on this matter at this time.”

No obvious disagreement has occurred, although some council members have privately criticized Jangula’s handling of meetings, especially citizen presentations. Jangula got embroiled in a social media firestorm last year over an email reply to a citizen that was widely regarded as condescending and sarcastic.

It’s more likely the three candidates suspect Jangula will step down and are jostling early to build support.

“I am very disappointed that members of my council have decided to start their campaigns in March, a full eight months before the Oct. 20, 2018 municipal election,” Jangula said. “One of the mayoralty candidates, Erik Eriksson, actually started last October, a full year prior to the election.

But Eriksson says the long lead time gives voters a chance to evaluate candidates.

“I announced my intention to run for mayor one year ahead of the election for two reasons,” he told Decafnation. “One is to give people lots of time to evaluate my readiness to serve as mayor.

“The other reason (as I’ve been telling people on the doorstep) is there’s a lot of doors to knock on. ”

Jangula also criticized council members not running for mayor but who are already supporting a colleague.

“I am very concerned when certain councillors are publicly endorsing other councillors for the position of mayor, which is already causing disharmony and discord at our council table,” he said.

Council member Doug Hillan last week announced his support for David Frisch’s campaign.

Frisch, however, rejects the mayor’s criticisms, and says he is focused on city business.

“I have been working for changes to improve housing affordability, transportation options, and downtown vitalization since I was first elected 3 1/2 years ago,” he said. “My focus on council remains the same and my run for mayor echos these principles.”

In regards to council member’s distractions, Frisch said it’s possible that his positions are gaining more attention now, and “that bothers other members of council.”

“But disagreement is nothing new. In fact, disagreement is the foundation of a full discussion and council is the place where issues are debated and, ultimately, decisions are made,” he said. “I look forward to being a leader who understands this and doesn’t shy away from difficult issues or attempt to silence or discourage views which oppose my own.”

Councillors Mano Theos and Rebecca Lennox have not responded to Decafnation’s enquiries about which of the three mayoralty candidates they might support.

Wells said his candidacy for mayor has not distracted him from making effective decisions.

“I can only speak to my focus on getting things done,” he said. “I respect the mayor and city councillors and I think we work well as a council even when we disagree.”

Wells told Decafnation that since being elected in 2014, he has “worked hard to learn as much as I could to make the best decisions possible and will continue to do so.”

“I have not found announcing my candidacy for mayor to be a distraction for me to make effective decisions,” he said. “As someone that loves budgets this is my favourite time of year, and I’m compelled to be prepared and engaged at all meetings.”

FURTHER READING: Erik Eriksson’s website; David Frisch’s website; Bob Wells website



North Island takes a step closer to new advanced recycling technologies

North Island takes a step closer to new advanced recycling technologies

PHOTO: Peter Vinall, president and co-founder of Sustane Technologies, says the company can convert solid waste that arrives at a landfill into biofuel, through a process that generates zero emissions. Photo courtesy of The Chronicle Herald


Comox Strathcona regional districts take a step closer to new advanced recycling technologies, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and longer landfill life


Using valuable land to bury our garbage is 17th Century thinking,” according to Charlie Cornfield, a Campbell River member of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board’s (CSWM) special committee investigating new technologies.

Cornfield made the comment April 5 in support of a series of motions to move the regional district closer to adopting advanced recycling methods that could extend the life of landfills and turn the community’s waste into sources of energy.

The disposition of household and commercial garbage has become a major problem for municipalities around the world, and B.C.’s coastal areas are not immune.

Powell River and the Cowichan Valley already ship their municipal waste by barge to private landfills in Washington state at exorbitant expense.

The Comox Strathcona region must spend about $28 million every six to seven years to open, operate and close up new landfill sites, a frequency that will escalate when the Campbell River landfill closes in 2023 and its waste is trucked to Pigeon Lake. That’s a cost to taxpayers of more than $300,000 per month.

“We can’t afford it (landfills) anymore,” Cornfield said.

FURTHER READING: Should the north Island bury its garbage, or convert it to energy?

New technologies that employ advanced recycling methods could extend the life of CSWM landfill at Pigeon Lake, near Cumberland by 69 to 160 years, while releasing significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions, according to consultants employed by the regional district.

The CSWM committee voted unanimously this week to invite two technology companies to meet with the board. The two, Sustane Technologies and Waste Treatment Technologies, were the leading contenders from a longer list of responders to a 2017 Request For Information for waste-to-energy technologies.

The committee also voted to ask the Ministry of Environment to explain provincial regulations that appear to restrict when local governments can adopt waste-to-energy solutions.

And the committee also directed staff to monitor the progress of Sustane Technologies first Canadian operation in Nova Scotia and its eight-year-old facility in Spain.

The committee’s actions rejected a recommendation by Chief Administration Officer Russell Dyson to put off further investigation of alternate waste disposal technologies until 2022, when a 10-year update of the solid waste management plan is due.

But there are still outstanding issues.

The 70 percent rule

Ministry of Environment regulations seem to require that local governments achieve a 70 percent diversion rate before getting provincial approval to explore waste-to-energy technologies.

That might mean that 70 percent of all waste arriving at Pigeon Lake from households and commercial sources must be reduced, recycled or reused, but the definitions and details of how the 70 percent figure is calculated are unclear.

The Comox Strathcona operation currently diverts 48 percent of waste, but when the organics composting facility opens next year in Campbell River, that number will jump to nearly 60 percent.

A representative of Morrison Hershfield, a consulting engineering firm hired to assess various new waste disposal technologies, said the ministry’s number “isn’t set in stone.” He said it’s examined on a case-by-case basis.

He said if the regional districts have a plan and is making a good effort toward diverting 70 percent of waste, a move toward newer technologies is likely to get a favorable response from the ministry.

Cornfield believes the 70 percent number was pulled “out of thin air.”

“Where did the 70 percent come from?” Cornfield said. “Our role as a board, as politicians, is to make the case that we’re close enough to move forward.”

Cornfield pointed out that the CSWM operation diverts more than double many other regional districts and that in many countries of the world, such as the U.K., there are no landfills at all.

Buying garbage, he said is a “horrible waste of an asset” that can be reused as energy.

Cost versus greenhouse gases

The Morrison Hershfield consulting study and detailed cost analysis by Comox Valley Regional District staff concluded that “at this time” it is less expensive to continue buying garbage in landfills.

The newer technologies could cost double or triple the amount per tonne spent on landfilling.

The same report, which compared three different WTE technologies, also concluded that if Comox and Strathcona regional districts continue to bury their garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.

The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.

And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes. Yes, a minus number, or a positive CO2e impact.

FURTHER READING: WTE discussion missed the GNG point

In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.

Landfills are North America’s third largest source of methane, which is 25 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Risks of the leading edge

The least expensive and most environment-friendly new technology studied was proposed by Sustane Technologies.

Sustane uses an advanced recycling processes that include production of crude oil from all forms of plastic, which it refines into diesel oil fuel pellets. The company builds a mini-refinery onsite.

The problem is that Sustane’s technology, while lauded by scientists, has not been proven, according to Morrison Hershfield. Their longest-running plant in Spain has not consistently operated at a commercial level over eight years. And the first Canadian facility in Chester, N.S. is not yet operational.

The consultant said Sustane’s technology is interesting and unique, but is still experimental.

“It will mature, but it’s not yet proven,” he said.

FURTHER READING: Garbage bags into fuel

But Cornfield said whether its proven or not doesn’t scare him.

“It takes people willing to take risks, otherwise we’d never develop new technologies,” he said. “We have to break this cycle (of burying garbage in landfills) sometime.”

WTE Committee Chair Rod Nichol, representing Area B, agreed.

“There’s little risk for us,” he said. “If the technology doesn’t work as well as we hoped, we still have the landfill.”

Nichol and Corfield believe that Sustane or WTT would build and operate a plant themselves, and the fees they charge back for processing the region’s waste would be lower than what residents now pay. CVRD staff doesn’t share that belief.

Time to amend the long-term plan

CVRD CAO Dyson said putting off further investigation of new technologies now would give staff time to engage ministries and the public about amending the solid waste management plan, and give WTT or Sustane time to prove their technologies.

The ministry of the Environment approved the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan in 2013, and an amended plan in 2016 to permit construction of a new engineered landfill at Pigeon Lake that will contain toxic liquids and capture methane gas.

Besides the new landfill at Pigeon Lake, the Solid Waste Management Plan calls for environmentally-mandated closure of all other landfills in the two regional districts; building transfer stations in those communities losing landfills; and, adding a methane burners and an organic composting facility in Campbell River that is scheduled to open next year.

Committee member Roger Kishi of Cumberland said he’s “certain we need to continue down the path to new technologies, but he’s not as certain that the potential companies will cover all the costs of construction and operation.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.

What’s next

The whole CSWM board must approve the recommended actions by the select committee at its next meeting on April 19.

FURTHER READING: Provincial ban on plastic bags needed



Seniors groups criticize VIHA RFP as too little, too late

Seniors groups criticize VIHA RFP as too little, too late

In presentations to the Island Health board of directors, three Comox Valley seniors advocacy groups criticized the recent residential care bed RFP, said Island Health doesn’t provide us with an equitable share of resources and exposed mistreatment of seniors and a new hospital that isn’t clean


Judging by the “surprisingly” large number of Comox Valley citizens who flooded the Crown Isle ballroom March 29 to hear their concerns presented to the Island Health board of directors, there is a widespread belief that the health authority has shortchanged the north Island, especially in health care for seniors.

Five community groups made presentations to the board, which did not speak or respond, except for brief remarks by chair Leah Hollins.

Three of the five presentations bemoaned gaps in health care for seniors, one asked Island Health to give back land it owns in Cumberland and another asked the board to include breathing clean air as a criteria in awarding Community Wellness Grants.

Here is a summary of the three presentations relating to health care.

Comox Valley Elders Take Action

Jennifer Pass, representing more than 70 members of this group, criticized Island Health for how seniors are treated at the Comox Valley Hospital, the cleanliness of the hospital and for its slow response to a critical lack of residential care beds in the region.

Pass recounted the story of an 88-year-old woman, an avid gardener, who experienced serious hand pain and, on the advice of friends, called an ambulance at 7:30 p.m. to take her to the hospital. She waited 14 hours, until 10 a.m. the next morning, before a doctor told her she had arthritis and lectured her on wasting ambulance time for such a trivial matter.

But a second opinion the woman sought later revealed she actually a severe nerve condition relating to her spine. She’s been scheduled for neurosurgery this summer.

Pass also told the board about an 88-year-old woman who experienced a possible Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA — a mini-stroke) and arrived at the emergency department with blood pressure of 185. She was told she “wasn’t a spring chicken anymore” and that she was wasting the ER’s time.

It was later determined by her own doctor that a conflict between two of her drug prescriptions had caused the problem.

These two anecdotes showed that hospital medical staff are “making assumptions about people’s health and diagnoses based on their age … and the elderly are being treated with disrespect,” Pass said, “as if their medical conditions aren’t important.”

Decafnation has received numerous similar reports of mistreatment, which have been reported in a series of articles and as recently as this week.

But Island Health CEO Kathy MacNeil told reporters after the meeting she hasn’t heard of these or similar incidents. That’s surprising from the CEO because people have filed complaints through the official VIHA process.

FURTHER READING: Island Health CEO disappointed by poor treatment of elderly

Pass also commented on the lack of cleanliness in the hospital. During a visit for day surgery, she tried to use one bathroom that had feces on the seat, and other bathrooms that were also filthy.

She was told the dirty bathrooms were a consequence of having so many elderly patients awaiting placement in residential care who were incontinent.

“Seems like the preconditions for a perfect storm,” Pass said.

Pass cleaned one bathroom herself. She also observed beds that hadn’t been cleaned or remade for days.

Sources have told Decafnation that the hospital is generally dirty — dirtier than St. Joseph’s Hospital ever was. They said the uncleanliness is a result of the inefficiencies of public-private partnerships (P3), where housekeeping is contracted out and not as closely managed. 

FURTHER READING: Dissecting a a P3 — Part 1

Pass also criticized the recent Request for Proposals to build “up to 120” additional residential care beds that Island Health hopes to open sometime in 2020.

“That’s too long to wait for new beds,” she said.

In response, Island Health board chair Leah Hollins said, “Bad news is good information. It’s good to hear these stories.”

Power of 5

Melanie Olson spoke on behalf a group of five “frustrated” family caregivers who are trying to keep their loved ones who are suffering with dementia at home.

Olson said their group shares the distress of more than one million unpaid, family caregivers in British Columbia, but with the added frustration of accessing too little support services provided by Island Health for the Comox Valley.

She noted that people over age 65 comprise a higher percentage of the Valley’s population than Victoria, and that it’s nearly 50 percent higher than the provincial average. And, that demographic is growing rapidly.

Yet, residential care beds and support services for family caregivers lags most other communities.

The shortage of residential care beds in the Comox Valley, which Olson estimated at a minimum of 160 beds, is only one of the factors plaguing caregivers.

But the experience of trying to get a loved one onto the list for a residential care bed can be long and frustrating. It’s at least a 12-month wait list, and the patient must not only meet the “complex care” requirement, but must also exceed the care that Community Health Services (formally called Home and Community Care) are able to provide.

But the lack of access to Adult Day Care (ADC) programs and respite beds is just as concerning for Olson’s group.

Respite beds give caregivers a chance to take an extended break (up to two weeks) from the 24/7 job of caring for loved ones. There are only three publicly subsidized respite beds in the Valley and one is not secure enough to accept dementia patients.

That leaves two for a large population of caregiving families. Caregivers are entitled to five weeks respite a year, but they don’t get it. Last time one caregiver needed respite, the entire next year was booked by the end of December or early January. A shortage of beds, means caregivers have to schedule respites too far in advance.

There is one private respite bed available at $223 per day, which most families cannot afford.

The situation is similar for ADC programs, where caregivers can take their loved ones for one or more days per week. But multiple times are virtually unavailable to due the area’s large demand. There’s a two-month wait list just to get ADC for one day per week.

Olson told the board she was disappointed the RFP for “up to 120” new residential care beds doesn’t include any requirement for ADC programs or respite beds.

Olson also asked the board for more access to home support services. She said the home support policy is to provide 120 hours, but only provides about 20 hours in the Comox Valley.

She said funding more caregiving training programs and providing practicum opportunities at Comox Valley facilities could help ease caregiver stress, which has reached the breaking point in many cases.

In an August 2017 report, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said 31 percent of unpaid caregivers were in distress in 2016, the highest in Canada.

Board chair Hollins said in response that “there’s no question we need to put more dollars into the community.”

Seniors Voices Comox Valley

Peggy Stirrett spoke on behalf of a grassroots seniors advocacy group that has collected data from a broad spectrum of community inputs to put a big picture perspective on a local crisis.

Stirrett’s PowerPoint presentation used data to show that the demand for seniors health care and related services has already outstripped local capability and is destined to get worse.

She told the Island Health board that the RFP for “up to 120” new residential care beds does not adequately address the Comox Valley’s demographics or the rate at which the population will grow.

The group’s data suggests there is an urgent need for up to 506 additional residential care beds.

Seniors Voices chart shows the Comox Valley has a higher concentration of seniors

Therefore, building “up to 120” beds by 2020 will neither solve the problem for seniors needing complex care facilities, reduce the distress of family caregivers or diminish the overcapacity problems afflicting the Comox Valley Hospital.

Stirrett said the Comox Valley has a higher concentration of low income households than the provincial average and a higher percentage of them are low income seniors. We also have almost 13 percent more people over the age of 75 than the Greater Victoria area.

But, Stirrett said, “the Comox Valley gets less than its fair share of the resources.”

She plugged data into two different formulas used by the provincial government for calculating a community’s need for residential care beds.

In the first formula, based on 75 beds per 1,000 people aged 75 and over, the Comox Valley should have 525 residential care beds, but has only 374 available.

Calculated as a percent of of the age 75 and over population, the Comox Valley has only 5.4 beds while Victoria, with a lower concentration of over 75 population, has 12.6 beds. The Valley’s ratio is the lowest on Vancouver Island.

“By any calculation we could develop,” Stirrett said, “an equitable allocation could be anywhere between 151 and 506 additional beds … This suggests that 120 additional beds is not enough ….”

She said the group is alarmed by wait times for residential care beds of a year or more and a hospital operating at 138 percent capacity.

“We can only imagine how difficult an experience this is for those seniors who are directly affected … and how much the uncertainty adds to their anxiety,” she said.

Stirrett implored the board to add more residential care beds immediately, even considering using St. Joseph’s capacity as an interim solution.

They also asked Island Health to develop a long-term residential care bed plan for the Valley that addresses the equity issue and takes our unique elderly demographic into consideration.

Finally, Stirrett asked the board to publish information specific to our local area on a regular, timely and transparent basis to help community groups assist seniors with their healthcare needs.


FURTHER READING: Decafnation series on the Comox Valley Hospital; Island Health RFP for residential care beds; The Views considering a bid for more beds


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