George Le Masurier photo
Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover
After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health.
Now, two months later, and with no evidence of corrective action by the Chinese corporation that owns the facility, the same Comox Valley family members have asked Island Health to assume its full operational responsibility.
“It is our strong belief that the prolonged, ongoing challenges to bring this facility within compliance are indicative of a larger endemic problem … regarding this facility,” the family members said in a May 20 letter to Tim Orr, the director of residential services for Island Health.
The family members say there have been seven new contraventions of compliance to Residential Care Regulations between March 7 and May 3, all of which occurred since an investigation by Island Health licensing agents in March that resulted in a ‘high risk’ rating for the facility.
That review was triggered by a March 13 letter to Orr from the family members alleging that Seniors Village mishandled containment of the virus and that it may have been caused by food handling and a failure to ensure staff had required immunizations.
And there are currently 12 current contraventions, according to the Island Health Licensing Officer’s May 3 report. And there have been 22 incidents of regulatory non-compliance recorded since 2018.
The family members believe the most serious regulatory non-compliance occurred during the norovirus outbreak, while the top senior management positions remained vacant. A failure to clean the facility violated health and safety regulations, which was compounded by allegedly falsifying records to show the cleaning had been done.
The Comox Valley Seniors Village opened in 2009 by the Canadian company Retirement Concepts, but the problems began to surface in 2017 after it was sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through its Canadian holding company, Cedar Tree, including seven on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, AB and QC.
Cedar Tree, in turn, contracts out management of Comox Valley Seniors Village, and other Anbang holdings, to a management company called Pacific Reach, owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts.
What’s gone wrong
Problems identified or alleged by family members include unauthorized restraint, falsified records, building filth left uncleaned, incorrect feeding and failing to meet the contracted number of hours of care per resident among their complaints.
The family members believe that Seniors Village receives full payment from Island Health based on 3.11 hours of care per resident, but actually provides only 2.63 hours.
Island Health told Decafnation that “licensees are held accountable to meet all contractual obligations, including resident care hours.” And that Seniors Village has developed a corrective action plan, which Island Health “is monitoring weekly, including the licensee’s compliance to the Act and the Residential Care Regulations.”
Adequate staffing has been an consistent problem at the Seniors Village. The facility operated for six months without any senior management, neither a general manager or a director of care.
The facility has a difficult time keeping staff partly because it pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other Valley facilities, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph. Seniors Village staff went on strike last fall for better working conditions and compensations.
But there are other problems that have caused many workers to quit.
Recently, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority.
One concept in the shift reorganization, which the company has since reconsidered, would have required workers to rotate among the various wards every five weeks. But that was unacceptable to family members of residents in the dementia ward, where consistency and specialized training is necessary.
Deadly norovirus outbreak
Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 25, the norovirus spread rampantly throughout the facility. The family members believe the outbreak lasted longer than necessary because Seniors Village personnel — without a manager, dietician or care director — did not follow Island Health’s rigorous cleaning procedure.
“Past contraventions show the facility has a history of not having policies and procedures in place and the properly trained staff to executive them,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.
Two residents of the dementia wing died from pneumonia after noro infection and another died after refusing food after contracting the virus. Residents with “mobile dementia” often touch floors because they see things there.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, people become infected with norovirus through direct contact with infected people, touching surfaces contaminated with norovirus or by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated, usually by food handlers who have the virus and don’t wash their hands properly.
“Further evidence supporting our concerns that the facility did not follow the required cleaning procedure is that we have determined that the only carpet cleaning during the 29-day outbreak was not steam cleaning as required, but vacuuming, which is specifically contraindicated in Island Health’s procedure,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.
The family of one dementia resident who died during the outbreak was permitted access to collect his personal belongings unaware that the required cleaning protocol had not been followed.
“It is unconscionable to us that Island Health would not have immediately stepped into direct this facility’s handling of the outbreak and provide additional resources given the known issues with this facility,” the family members wrote on March 13.
The family members believe that an Island Health run facility would have done a post-incident investigation to identify the root causes of the norovirus outbreak and recommendations to prevent another occurence.
“Why would it not be a requirement for this facility, given its serious breach of a critical public health protocol?” the family members asked Orr in their most recent May 20 letter.
Can Island Health take over?
Island Health has the authority to take operational control of a facility through the Community Care and Assisted Living Act if they believe has endangered public health.
Island Health says they have appointed an administrator at facilities in the past. They have done so twice in the past 15 years at two separate facilities.
“We take the concerns and complaints from residents and families seriously,” an Island Health spokesperson told Decafnation. “There are a number of regulatory mechanisms to direct corrective action on the part of the operators to ensure the safety of residents.”
The family members think the situation at Seniors Village qualifies.
“Severe and irrevocable consequences are both appropriate and needed given this service provider’s continued critical failures to meet the terms of its contract and the regulatory standards,” they wrote on May 20.
The family members told Orr they have supported Island Health’s need to follow a remedial process, and think it’s now “time to take decisive action.”
“If Island Health is of the view that Comox Valley Seniors Village has not yet reached this point, it begs one of two questions: How much longer? Or How much worse does it need to be?”
Family members of Comox Valley Seniors Village residents or former residents who signed both letters referred to in this article are Delores Broten, Bev Foster, Greta Judd, Sharon Jackson and Doug Malcolm.
This article has been updated to remove a sentence saying Island Health had not responded. Island Health’s responses were included in the original article.
WHAT IS THE NOROVIRUS AND HOW DO YOU GET IT?
Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. People of all ages can get infected and sick with norovirus.
Norovirus is sometimes called the stomach flu or stomach bug. However, norovirus illness is not related to the flu which is caused by influenza virus.
People with norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles. And only a few virus particles can make other people sick.
You can get norovirus from:
–Having direct contact with an infected person
–Consuming contaminated food or water
–Touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth
The most commonly reported setting for norovirus outbreaks … is healthcare facilities, including long-term care facilities and hospitals. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported … occur in long-term care facilities.
The virus can be introduced into healthcare facilities by infected patients, staff, visitors, or contaminated foods. Outbreaks in these settings can sometimes last months. Norovirus illnesses can be more severe, occasionally even deadly, in patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities compared with healthy people.
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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