Is a storm brewing, or is this the light at the end of the tunnell?  /  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Island Health takeover for public safety, and Horner’s negative campaign

Oct 4, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

This week, Island Health took the rare step to assume operational control of the Comox Valley Seniors Village, a privately-owned long-term care facility. Island Health has only taken this dramatic action twice in the past 15 years.

Then, later this week, there was more new. The Hospital Employees’ Union went public with its demands that Island Health take over another seniors care home in Nanaimo. And Island Health revealed that it has ongoing multiple investigations at both the Nanaimo Seniors Village and the Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria.

There is a common thread here: All three of these facilities are owned by the same private company through a complex arrangement.

The Comox Valley Seniors Village was opened in 2009 by the Canadian company, Retirement Concepts, which was later sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company in 2017. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through a Canadian holding company, called Cedar Tree. The purchase included seven care homes on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, Alberta and Quebec.

But Cedar Tree doesn’t run the facilities. It contracts out the management of all its Anbang holdings to a company called Pacific Reach.

And, as if this wasn’t confusing enough, Pacific Reach is owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts. Full circle.

According to a report in the Victoria Times-Colonist this week, a spokesperson for Pacific Reach blames the problems at all three Seniors Village facilities under investigation on industry-wide labour shortages. Jennie Deneka told the newspaper that the company can’t find enough workers.

It’s true. Adequate staffing has been a consistent problem at the CV Seniors Village, and it is one of the main complaints that family members have been relentlessly sending to Island Health for more than six months.

But what Deneka doesn’t say publicly is why the labour shortage affects her company’s facilities more seriously than other care home operators. One probable reason: Comox Valley Seniors Village reportedly pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other local care homes, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph.

But there are other problems at CVSV that have caused workers to quit. In the last year, 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. For these and other assorted reasons, CVSV staff went on strike last fall to press for better working conditions and more equitable compensation.

It’s just natural that when trained or experienced staff are in short supply, those who pay the least will suffer the most.

I was checking the city’s online building permits recently — something only a retired newspaper person would do — and noticed that Golden Life hadn’t yet received a building permit for the 120 new long-term care beds and six new hospice units awarded them by Island Health. Golden Life, the Canadian company building new beds on Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay, operates 10 seniors facilities in BC and three in Alberta.

That caught my attention because Island Health promised the beds would open in 2020.

The City of Courtenay told me that Golden Life had just applied for a permit the previous day, eventhough on Sept.16, City Council approved a development permit with variances for the project, which goes by the name Courtenay Oceanfront Developments Ltd.

In general, the development permit deals with form and character elements of the project such as building location, materials, landscaping and access locations.

The building permit, which comes later, ensures the technical elements of the building meet the building code. It also approves site servicing including sanitary sewer, water, and stormwater management. This is also the stage where off-site works such as the intersection upgrade get reviewed and approved.

It’s likely that this building permit approval process could take a month or two because this is a large building requiring multiple complex servicing approvals.

So, if Golden Life doesn’t get started until January, will they still make the 2020 deadline? Stay tuned.

If you live in the Courtenay-Alberni federal riding and spend any time on Facebook, you might have noticed that Conservative Byron Horner is running an extremely negative campaign against incumbent NDP MP Gord Johns.

In one recent ad, Horner says “Johns could not deliver $1 of discretionary spending for our region,” and “The reality is Mr. Johns has no decision-making authority on any federal spending.”

The first part is simply untrue. Johns’ work on behalf of Canadian veterans, for one example, will certainly benefit the Comox Valley area, which is home to many active and retired military people.

And if the second part of Horner’s attack is true, then it will be doubly true for him. The reality is that Canada might elect a minority Liberal government, and the NDP is most likely to hold the balance of power.

And speaking of negatives, what exactly did Byron Horner do when he worked for Merrill Lynch in New York as his online bio states? Did he work there in the 2000s when companies like Merrill sold toxic mortgage instruments that took down the global economy? He doesn’t say. But this is something that Horner should clarify for voters.

 

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