The Island Health board meeting that wasn’t a board meeting

The Island Health board meeting that wasn’t a board meeting

Without public notice, Island Health holds its March board meeting a day early in Victoria, doesn’t address Comox Valley Hospital issues at “public forum” in Courtenay. But seniors health care advocates make passionate pleas for more resources


Those among the several hundred people who packed the Crown Isle Ballroom yesterday (March 29) expecting to attend a meeting of the board of directors of the Vancouver Island Health Authority (Island Health) came away confused.

Those in the standing-room-only audience hoping to hear the Island Health board address well-known problems at the Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals, and perhaps announce some bold corrective measures, came away disappointed.

Yet, everyone left inspired by five community groups who spoke passionately, and pleaded with the board to serve the Comox Valley more equitably.

FURTHER READING: Pleas for better seniors care, supportive housing and clean air

The confusion arose because Island Health advertised the March 29 event on its website as a regular, official board meeting. It was not.

The board of directors actually met the day before, March 28, in Victoria, without any public notice on its website, probably breaking the government’s own rules on transparency.

Screen shot taken from the Island Health website at 3:53 p.m. March 29

There was no notice by Island Health that the March board meeting would occur at any time other than March 29, or in any other location than Courtenay.

When Decafnation contacted board liaison Louise Carlow via email after the meeting about the lack of public notice, she did not respond. Government workers are off now for the long Easter weekend holiday.

The only director to utter even a sound in Courtenay was board chair Leah Hollins, who opened the meeting by looking over the crowd spilling out into the Crown Isle lobby and saying:

“Fair to say, we weren’t anticipating this many people.”

After all the publicity given to the hospital’s poor planning, overcapacity, long emergency waits, staff shortages and low employee morale, she shouldn’t have been surprised. It would have been surprising if there wasn’t a large turnout.

Concern about the performance of our hospital and how Island Health has underserved the north Island runs that high.

Perhaps the board did fear a large gathering, which might explain why they held their official board meeting the day before in Victoria without any public notice, and did not adhere to their published agenda.

The meeting bypassed the agenda it posted on its website — most notably not allowing any time for questions from the floor — and launched into informative presentations by north Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns, Island Health CEO Kathy MacNeil and five community organizations.

Not once did Hollins or MacNeil discuss problems at the Comox Valley or Campbell River hospitals, except at the tail end of the CEO’s report when she called the issues, which were first raised in a series of articles on Decafnation, as “growing pains.”

All that was missing in Island Health’s attempt to downplay issues that are having a serious effect on the lives of their employees and patients was a chorus of happy hospital workers smiling behind them on the podium.

Ironically, MacNeil inadvertently pinpointed the source of problems by noting that only about 15 percent of the people who at the two North Island Hospitals were consulted in the design process.

The 300 people MacNeil said were involved in the design process — out of more than 1,900 staff and doctors — were mostly senior managers and physicians. The few frontline workers who were consulted have told Decafnation their input obviously wasn’t heard or was ignored.

But while the board chair and the CEO shied away from addressing problems head-on in public, several of the presenters were more direct.

Jennifer Pass, representing the Comox Valley Elders Take Action group, told the board that CVH staff are disrespecting people based on age, and recounted two personal stories in support.

Pass also criticized the lack of cleanliness in the hospital. She shared a personal experience in the hospital where she saw beds left unmade for days and filthy bathrooms. Her observations coincide with those of several staff members who have spoken with Decafnation.

On health care for seniors, Pass said 2020 was too long to wait for new residential care beds. Island Health has issued a Request for Proposals to build “up to 120” new complex care beds, which MacNeil estimated would be opened “sometime in 2020.”

That concern was also voiced by Peggy Stirrett of the seniors advocacy group, Senior Voices Comox Valley.

Stirrett said the “up to 120” beds sometime in 2020 is not enough, and not soon enough.

“By 2020, (the Comox Valley) will need 100 or more beds than that, and by 2021 we’ll be back in the same situation as today,” she said.

Screen shot of agenda as posted on the Island Health website

Seniors Voices believes there is a current need for between 151 to 506 additional residential care beds based on several formulas used by the government itself.

“The Comox Valley has not received an equitable share of the resources,” she said.

Melanie Olson, spoke on behalf of the Power of 5, a group of “frustrated caregivers trying to keep their loved ones (with dementia) at home as long as possible.”

Olson told the board that Island Health’s support for family, unpaid caregivers is lacking, especially considering that they save the province an estimated $3.5 billion per year.

Hollins skipped over the 10 minutes set aside for questions from the floor (as specified in the agenda) and then abruptly closed the meeting with a tone-deaf remark.

“It’s clear there are many issues in health care. We’ll never be able to meet them all,” she said. “But we appreciate hearing from you today.”

Record 178 patients at CVH, VIHA board in Courtenay

Record 178 patients at CVH, VIHA board in Courtenay

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (Island Health) board of directors will hear several presentations today from north Island residents.

By holding its March 29th meeting in Courtenay, the board has given local residents an opportunity to voice their many concerns, which this website first brought to the public’s attention in a series of articles in January.

The board’s published agenda states that 60 minutes have been set aside for public presentations, but does not specify which community applications to make a presentation have been accepted.

But we can speculate.

The board is likely to hear about the lack of long-term care beds in the Comox Valley, problems caused by overcapacity at both the Courtenay and Campbell River hospitals, long waits in the emergency department and perhaps even a plea to reactivate portions of the now-closed St. Joseph’s General Hospital to mitigate some of these issues.

Some residents may express concern about the consequences of how poorly Island Health planned their new hospitals and have neglected regional senior care services.

We may even hear a plea from the Equal Access Comox Valley group to deny The Views at St. Joseph’s any of the proposed 120 new long-term care beds — perhaps any public funding at all — because the religious-based facility does not allow Medical Assistance in Dying on its property.

FURTHER READING: No MAiD, No Contract!; Decafnation’s hospital series

Concerned citizens should not expect that board members or executives will respond to public questions or presentations at this meeting, at least in any meaningful way. Precedent indicates that if the board responds at all, it will be through written statements or private meetings.

Nearly three months after Decafnation exposed that hospital planning failures have lead to staff shortages and other problems causing low staff morale at the Comox Valley Hospital, nothing has been done to address the issues.

Frontline workers have received no acknowledgement of the problems they face or asked their input on how to resolve issues, including hospital design flaws and inefficient Island Health procedures, that have left them overworked and frustrated.

The response from hospital management and Island Health executives has been that these problems are “normal,” and will work themselves out over time.

Meanwhile, the CVH reached a new record high in overcapacity last Friday with 178 admitted patients.

That’s 49 more patients than the 129 opened beds for which the hospital is budgeted and staffed. And it’s 25 more patients than expected by 2025, when hospital planners expected CVH to reach maximum capacity of 153 admitted patients.

Emergency room staff — where reports of wait times have stretched up to eight hours — are often on the front line of some of these problems.

One Decafnation reader wrote that the experience of her husband at CVH “was appalling, total ignorance of his recent heart surgery.”

The man had a heart attack and was treated well at CVH initially, and at Royal Jubilee Hospital where he had five-vessel bypass surgery.

But when he started bleeding into the bowel from Equis after his return home and went to the CVH emergency, he waited five hours to see a physician, and then kept on a stretcher (cubicle with a curtain) in the day surgery area for eight days with no shower and forced to use a commode.

Then he was transferred to the emergency overflow area and provided with a bed, but no shower, and discharged two days later.

“Sleeping on a stretcher, not being able to shower for 10 days and having to use a commode is not acceptable care,” said our reader.

The Island Health board meeting is open to the public. It starts at 1.30 p.m. in the Crown Isle Resort ballroom located on ClubHouse Drive.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May will headline a panel of speakers on the topic of Electoral Reform in B.C. on March 14 at the Stan Hagen Theatre on the North Island College campus. Read about it here.

Henry Fletcher plan to bring Cumberland’s historic Ilo Ilo Theatre back to life. Read it here.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (Island Health) will hold its March meeting in Courtenay. People wanting to ask questions or make presentations need to use special online forms. Read it here.

Shakesides supporters encouraged, hearing adjourned

Shakesides supporters encouraged, hearing adjourned

PHOTO: Mack Laing cutting a Douglas fir with a Wee McGregor, a mechanical bucker, on the Comox waterfront in September 1925. — B.C. Archives

NOTE: This article was updated at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 15

Shakesides supporters encouraged, court hearing adjourned to April

A B.C. Supreme Court hearing scheduled for this morning (March 15) to determine whether to grant standing to the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) in the Town of Comox’s application to vary one of the famous ornithologist’s trusts has been adjourned until April.

MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning had a medical emergency and could not attend. In a written statement to Supreme Court Justice Robin Baird, Canning asked for the case to be adjourned. Lawyers for the Town of Comox and the B.C. Attorney General’s office wanted to proceed anyway.

But saying he had spent time reading much of the nine affidavits submitted by Comox Valley citizens and organizations, such as Comox Valley Nature, Justice Baird said  “the society has an arguable case and it should be heard.”

“I’m not pre-judging the case, I’ve just read the materials,” Justice Baird said. “There are serious issues at stake; it’s been 36 years; and, the vindication of a will.”

Justice Baird seemed to encourage the town’s counsel and the AG lawyer not to oppose standing for MLHS.

“Obviously, there has to be a hearing,” Justice Baird said. “Unless counsels can decide, upon reflection, that it’s not necessary … we can get to the merits of the case sooner.”

And later while discussing a date for the adjourned hearing, Justice Baird said again “but if counsel can come to terms (about granting standing to MLHS), let the trial coordinator know (in order to cancel time for a hearing on standing).”

When all parties agreed to adjourn to April 16 in Nanaimo, Justice Baird left with what may or may not have been an intentional whimiscal comment.

“We’ll let nature takes its course; it has been 36 years,” he said.

Supporters and opponents of the town’s petition attended the court hearing, as did four member of Comox Town Council: Mayor Paul Ives and councillors Russ Arnott, Marg Grant and Maureen Swift.


ORIGINAL STORY: B.C. Supreme Court to hear Shakesides arguments today

The B.C. Supreme Court will hear arguments this morning (March 15) in Courtenay whether to grant “standing” to the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) in a case that will decide the future of Laing’s historic home, Shakesides.

MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning will argue that nine affidavits totalling nearly 500 pages of evidence compiled by Comox Valley citizens and organizations, negate the basis of the Town of Comox’s petition to vary one of three trusts given by Laing to the community.

The Town of Comox has opposed standing for MLHS. The town hopes to shield the citizen’s evidence and exhibits from the court.

FURTHER READING: What is “standing?”

The town wants to demolish Laing’s iconic home, which he willed to the town, and use the money he also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed ornithologist intended.

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.”

J-Kris Nielsen, president of MLHS, said “justice would only be served” if the court considers all the facts and evidence.

Nielsen said the nine affidavits that 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.

Granting “standing” would mean the MLHS lawyer could present the affidavits to the court to consider in ruling on the town’s petition.

But, if the Supreme Court does not directly grant standing to MLHS, the affidavits may still be considered by the court.

MLHS filed a counter-petition this week challenging many of the facts in the town’s original petition, and the town must respond. Nielsen said that could get the most critical information before the court.

It’s possible the court will not rule on the town’s petition or the MLHS’s counter-petition at this sitting. It could put the matter over until its next session in July.

At 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.

The MLHS wants the town to preserve Shakesides as a heritage site, and to create some form of a natural history museum, as Laing wished.

The town wants to build a viewing platform, despite having already built a viewing platform just footsteps aways from Shakesides, on the site of Laing’s original home, called Baybrook. The town tore down that house in 2015.

MLHS also wants the Supreme 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.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses, we misspent Laing’s money!; More Mack Laing articles

Comox Council and staff admitted in December to misspending Laing’s money, and have put funds back into the trust. It is now worth $256, 305.98, according to the town’s petition.

That’s a significant increase in the trust’s value from the $70,000 the town told a 2016 citizens advisory committee. The committee eventually recommended demolition, although several members disagreed and presented a contrary minority report to the Town Council.

It’s likely the committee would have made a different recommendation if it had known there was more than a quarter-million dollars available for restoration and fulfillment of Laing’s trust. And that money could have been leveraged up, including an offer of funds from Heritage B.C., which has urged the town to preserve the building.

Who was Hamilton “Mack” Laing?

Hamilton Mack Laing was a naturalist, photographer, writer and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront from 1922 through 1982 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing gave his waterfront property, his home, substantial cash and personal papers from his estate to the Town of Comox “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.” The town accepted the money and, therefore, the terms of the trust.

But 36 years later, the Town of Comox has done nothing to satisfy his last wishes and mishandled the money Laing left, raising serious ethical and legal questions, which the B.C. Supreme Court may ultimate answer.

Laing moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables.

After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot.

Shakesides’ heritage value

An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm issued a Statement of Significance regarding the former home of naturalist Mack Laing — known as “Shakesides.” They said the building is of national importance and that it should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.

The chairman of Heritage B.C., a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”

Heritage B.C. has offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.

The town has ignored Heritage B.C.’s offer.

FURTHER READING: Who are the B.C. Supreme Court justices?


120 complex care beds proposed for Comox Valley

120 complex care beds proposed for Comox Valley

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (Island Health) has reissued a Request for Proposals to add 120 new beds for patients requiring a complex level of care in the Comox Valley.

Island Health says it hopes to award contracts for the new beds in early May and expects they will open for patients sometime in 2020.

That’s good news for people needing complex care, and especially for their caregivers. The glaring and long-time shortage of complex care beds in the Comox Valley has distressed caregivers, and resulted in some horrific tragedies.

It’s also good news for Comox Valley Hospital workers. A workforce staffed for 129 admitted patients has been dealing with serious overcapacity issues — up to 170 admitted patients — since the new hospital opened in October.

Most of those 30-40 unexpected patients no longer need acute care, but remain in the hospital because of the Valley’s shortage of complex care beds.

It’s a problem that dates back many years, but surprisingly the new Comox Valley Hospital was planned as if it would never have patients needing an alternate level of care.

That strategy might have worked, or at least diminished the current problems at CVH, except Island Health was slow in issuing a Request for Proposals and awarding the contract for new or replacement beds. And then, it cancelled the RFP completely.

On Sept. 30, 2016, Island Health issued an RFP for 70 new or replacement residential care beds for the Comox Valley. The press release said contracts would be awarded in April 2017 and opened in 2019.

But, on Aug. 3, 2017, Island Health cancelled the RFP, shortly after its board of directors decided the four hospice beds located at St. Joseph’s should be moved to a secular facility that could provide Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).

Tim Orr, the director of residential services for Island Health, told Decafnation that St. Joseph’s policy not to permit MAiD was one of several factors in the decision to cancel the 2016 RFP. The new RFP requires at least one proponent to provide end-of-life services including MAiD, and house six hospice beds.

FURTHER READING: Island Health RDP press release

What’s in the RFP?

The Island Health press release says the 120 new beds may be awarded to more than one proponent, and than the number of new complex care beds awarded to each proponent will be determined in the evaluation of each proposal.

“Should the RFP result in more than one successful proponent, at minimum, one of the selected proponents will be required to provide for six community hospice care beds and allow for the provision of MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) on site,” the release said.

And successful proponents must provide 3.36 direct care hours per resident day, as per provincial standards.

The release also states that the “new RFP includes flexibility for greater capacity in the future, opportunities for a full spectrum of complex care including innovative models of dementia care ….”
Community reaction

The community has responded to the Island Health announcement with cautious optimism.

Our sources believe that 120 new beds will relieve the stress on the new Comox Valley Hospital, but will not provide a complex care bed for everyone in the Valley who needs one.

Because there are so many nonpaid (mostly family member) caregivers in the Valley, and because only the most in need of acute care get into the hospital, that the Valley may actually need more than 150 and closer to 200 complex care beds.

Our sources expressed disappointment that the announcement didn’t include an increase in respite beds, adult daycare programs or resources for Community Health Care, a program designed to keep people at home as long as possible.

Will St. Joseph’s apply?

The wording of the RFP press release appears to open the door for The Views at St. Joseph’s to apply for additional beds without agreeing to provide MAiD on site, which is something the Catholic church opposes on ethical grounds.

The Views at St. Joseph’s already provides publicly-funded complex care beds that are mostly occupied by patients with dementia. The Views board of directors has outlined a vision for a dementia village” similar to Hogeweyk in the Netherlands.

A private operator in Langely, B.C. just announced that it will open Canada’s first “dementia village” next year. Verve Senior Living says the project will cost patients between $6,000 to $7,500 per month, but is open to working with the B.C. government to make residence more affordable.

What’s next

Island Health will accept proposals until May 11, but does not say when the contract or contracts will be awarded. It generally takes a minimum of two years from awarding a contract to its completion.

The Island Health board of directors will meet at 1.30 p.m. on March 29 at the Crown Isle Resort ballroom. People may ask questions in advance to be answered in written form at the board meeting, or make 10-minute presentations to the board if they apply by March 15.

In other North Island Hospitals news, Dr. Jeff Beselt has resigned from his position as the Executive Medical Director for the Comox Valley Hospital and Campbell River Hospital. According to a Island Health spokesperson, Dr. Beselt stepped down to focus on his family. Island Health named Dr. Jennifer Grace, of Campbell River, the interim EMD for the region, which includes Campbell River, Courtenay, Comox and Mount Waddington/Strathcona. You can view a farewell video for Dr. Beselt here, and read reviews of Dr. Grace here.

FURTHER READING:Canada’s first “dementia village;”BC retirement home chain sold to murky Chinese ownership group


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