Town Hall to explain how VIHA’s cuts have hurt North Island patient care

Town Hall to explain how VIHA’s cuts have hurt North Island patient care

Town Hall to explain how VIHA’s cuts have hurt North Island patient care

By George Le Masurier

For more than six years, Campbell River and Comox Valley doctors and other medical professionals have tried to stop the erosion of laboratory services performed on the North Island, but both the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Ministry of Health have continued to allow the transfer of critical lab functions to Victoria area doctors.

“​It’s time for the community to speak up – for the services that we were promised when the new North Island hospitals opened, for our doctors and lab staff, for all of us,” said Barbara Bailey, a spokesman for Citizens for Quality Health Care.

READ MORE: Our series on pathology services in the North Island

To get the BC healthy ministry’s attention, the citizens group has organized a Town Hall meeting from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Campbell River Sportsplex. They hope people will attend to show their support, share experiences and sign a petition that demands the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital laboratory.

Speakers at the Town Hall will include Dr. Chris Bellamy, one of the Comox Valley’s three General Pathologists who still do clinical pathology onsite at the Comox Valley Hospital. But VIHA (also known as Island Health) also wants to take all clinical pathologists’ services from the Comox Valley Hospital laboratory and move that work to the same group of Victoria doctors.

That happened to Dr. Aref Tabarsi, one of two General Pathologists in Campbell River.

​After VIHA moved clinical pathologists’ services from the Campbell River hospital to Victoria, there has been a significant delay in test results, especially for urgent cases, which has had a negative impact on patient care and clinical outcomes.

It has also created a breakdown in working relations because hospital lab staff and local doctors can no longer consult with the pathologists on site to provide optimum services to patients.

“I will absolutely guarantee that this shift will result in the further erosion of technologists locally and will be bad for patient care in this area,” said Dr. Chris Bellamy, who has practiced general pathology in the Comox Valley for 30 years.

​Despite letters of support for reinstating onsite clinical pathologists’ services to Campbell River laboratory technologists and assistants, as well as 70 North Island general practice physicians, have written letters detailing the problems centralization has caused for their work and for patient care, and expressing their support for reinstating onsite clinical pathologists’ services.

But the Vancouver Island Health Authority has so far dismissed their concerns.

VIHA has not responded to the laboratory staff or doctors. The Ministry of Health has not respond to the Campbell River City Council or the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board, both of who have asked for the return clinical pathology services to the Campbell River Hospital.​ ​

“​Come to the Town Hall on February 9. Learn from the senior pathologists at the Campbell River and Comox Valley Hospitals, lab staff and doctors in the community, share your own experiences.,” Bailey said.

​For more information, call Citizens for Quality Health Care: 250-287-3096 or Council of Canadians Campbell River Chapter: 250-286-3019.

 

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More Health Care | Top Feature

Petition put to BC Legislature: restore North Island pathology

North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented a petition signed by over 2,500 people to the BC Legislature Nov. 20 that calls for the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital and to investigate possible conflicts of interest within Island Health

BC’s logging practices called out by Comox Valley group

Supporters of Save Our Forests Team – Comox Valley (SOFT-CV) rallied outside Claire Trevena’s office in Campbell River to protest the provincial government’s continued logging of the last stands of productive old-growth on Vancouver Island

CVRD directors approve racecar testing at Smit Field for one year by 2-1 vote

CVRD directors approve racecar testing at Smit Field for one year by 2-1 vote

CVRD Area A Director Daniel Arbour cast the deciding vote for race car testing  |  George Le Masurier photo

CVRD directors approve racecar testing at Smit Field for one year by 2-1 vote

By George Le Masurier

Race car testing will continue at Smit Field next to Nymph Falls Nature Park, at least for another season, after Comox Valley rural directors voted 2-1 in favor of a scaled down permit.

The Vanisle Airfield Society, an association of drag racing enthusiasts, had applied for a three-year temporary use permit to test and tune their cars over three days, three times during the summer season. CVRD staff, however, recommended directors approve only a one-year permit with other limiting conditions, such as a cap on 30 cars per event.

But when Director Daniel Arbour (Area A) appeared ready to vote against the staff recommendation based on neighborhood concerns, Director Edwin Grieve (Area C) proposed limiting the three test and tune events to a single day. Grieve chairs the electoral services commission.

READ MORE: Get in-depth background on this issue here

But society president Ken Peterson said a one-day event wasn’t workable for the effort it takes to set up timing and lighting equipment and for out-of-town race car owners to travel to the Comox Valley.

Arbour then moved to approve two two-day events on a one-year basis. He and Grieve outvoted Area B Director Arzeena Hamir who voted against approving a temporary use permit.

The vote came after three neighborhood residents urged directors to deny issuing a permit and society representatives and the Smit Field owners tried to assure directors they were attempting to minimize negative impacts and actively seeking to secure a permanent site elsewhere.

 

SPEAKERS OPPOSED

Ron Bridge, a Forbidden Plateau Road resident since 1975, said he moved to the area before the Smit Field aerodrome was established for a quieter environment and to be closer to nature. He was instrumental in the founding of Nymph Falls park.

Bridge said the testing of drag racing cars is incongruous with the neighborhood’s lifestyle values and out of place next to a nature park. He asked the directors to preserve an area with natural wonders.

Two other neighbors spoke against the testing of drag racing cars, including a woman who said she walks in the park every day, but can’t go out of her house on days of the events.

“There must be a quieter way to raise money for charity,” she said.

 

CAR OWNERS TRYING

The Vanisle Airfield Society was formed in 2015 after Smit Field owners Dan Annand and Kevin Greissel offered their concrete runway for the testing and tuning of drag racing cars.

They held several events in violation of Comox Valley Regional District zoning bylaws before neighbors complained. The regional district then prohibited future events until the rural directors approved a temporary use permit.

Tania Woodbeck, speaking on behalf of the society, said the group was a network of friends and relatives and would never become more than that.

But she admitted during questioning from Director Hamir that a previous “invitational” event had attracted drag racing fans who were not members of the association, and who had engaged in harassing social media posts.

“It was bullying, for sure,” Woodbeck said, adding that they weren’t members of the society. She promised directors that inviting non-members wouldn’t ever happen again.

Woodbeck said the society is trying to be good community neighbors by raising money for charities during lunchtime barbecues and purchasing carbon tax credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

Peterson said the society is only looking for a temporary location to test and tune its cars. He said they are actively looking for a permanent site elsewhere.

 

ARBOUR CASTS KEY VOTE

Before the Dec. 9 vote, it was commonly known that Director Hamir would vote against approving a permit and that Director Grieve would vote in favor. That put Director Arbour from Hornby Island in the position of deciding the issue.

Arbour said it was a hard choice for him, because it’s a “delicate thing to bring people together.” He said both sides and the three elected officials had been offended by some of the comments made prior to the meeting.

He called a temporary use permit a privilege, not a right.

And he said neighborhood concerns were strong and persistent.

“When I hear that people say they might move (as a result of the noisy events), it indicates an emotional charge,” he said. “This is difficult for me because you get elected to make everyone happy.”

In making the motion to approve two two-day events, Arbour specified that if they apply for another temporary use permit next year, he’ll require more concrete evidence that the society is, in fact, actively looking for a permanent site.

It was a hint that he didn’t envision issuing temporary use permits repeatedly.

 

HAMIR OPPOSED

Area B Director Arzeena Hamir said many of the property owners didn’t “sign up” for a temporary use permit to allow drag racing cars in the neighborhood.

She responded to a comment made by property co-owner Kevin Greissel that he could use his property as he wished.

“No, you can’t,” Hamir said. “We have rules around zoning and uses to be good neighbors.”

She would vote against the motion, Hamir said, because the activity is not allowed under the zoning and it’s having a negative impact on neighbors. She also noted that carbon offsets were not meant as an excuse for burning fossil fuels but to transition away from them.

Hamir said she worried that approving the permit would send a signal that testing drag racing cars in rural residential zoning was okaty.

She praised the society for raising money for charity, and said she hoped that whichever way the vote went that they would continue the practice.

 

GRIEVE RAMBLES ON

Before turning the discussion over to directors Arbour and Hamir, Commission Chair Grieve went on a long, rambling speech that at times lectured on the principles of democracy and other times invoked images of terrorists or insurgents.

He started off stating that “we live in a world of polarization, so we have to peel off the harassment piece.” Neighbors who have complained say they have been harassed on social media.

Grieve went on to say that nobody has been harassed more than elected officials and told stories about Lower Mainland and Victoria area public officials who were bullied on social media. He said, “especially women” were targets of people hiding behind pseudonyms.

He called the opposing views on testing drag cars at Smit Field a “clash of cultures … so there’s diversity.”

Whether or not the temporary use permit request was the “thin edge of the wedge,” to more frequent and varied events at Smit Field, Grieve suggested “we test and tune the test and tune.”

Grieve said he didn’t see the activity growing into “some uguly event,” and that a compromise shouldn’t be an “insufferable imposition.”

Realizing he was speaking at length, Grieve said, “Allow me some latitude here, I am the chair.” He then told a story of a hesitant person standing up to speak at a public meeting as an example of “what democracy is.” He praised everyone for speaking their opinion.

“We don’t have people wearing armbands riding around in pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on them,” he said.

 

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The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

When fog settles in, our vision is limited  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

By George Le Masurier

As a retired journalist who has seen the health care system from up close on both sides of the Canada-US border, I can tell you that we are fortunate to live here.

It’s true we don’t have a Mayo Clinic or a John Hopkins University, and there aren’t storefronts offering MRIs on every street corner (only a slight exaggeration). But we have our fair share of brilliant and competent people providing us with health care, from brain surgeons right through to admitting clerks.

I have retired friends in the Puget Sound who pay $1,000 per month for comparable health insurance that used to cost BC residents just $75 a month, and is now free. For their inflated cost, my American friends get little more than better access to technology and procedures, although that can be critical in certain situations.

I say this to put my next sentence in context.

Many of those who work in the healthcare field on Vancouver Island — the doctors, nurses, laboratory workers, kitchen workers in hospitals, receptionists and more — believe that the Vancouver Island Health Authority is poorly managed. Employee surveys at Nanaimo General and the two North Island Hospitals in 2017/2018 bear this out.

And sadly, with a few exceptions, our elected officials and our mainstream Island media have let them off the hook.

VIHA, or Island Health if you prefer, is a secretive organization whose top decision-makers appear out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve. It’s an organization that could not properly plan and build new hospitals in Campbell River and the Comox Valley; planning flaws that after two years  still have not been fully corrected.

How else can you describe the VIHA executives that have imposed reductions of pathology services north of the Malahat, especially on the North Island? Or, how they have dealt with the public that has explained the harm that these changes have made to patient care? We have lost critical onsite clinical pathologists’ services in Campbell River, and soon, if VIHA gets its way, in the Comox Valley, too.

The centralization of clinical pathology interpretation and diagnosis in Victoria is a disservice to north Islanders. Next on the block might be medical imaging. After that, who knows?

 

DECISIONS MADE IN ISOLATION

VIHA hatched this plan to shut down certain laboratory services at our hospitals without prior consultation with our doctors, our lab staff or even our elected officials at the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District. Consulting the public, of course, would never cross their minds.

North Island medical professionals, such as Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a Campbell River general pathologist, learned of this centralization plan through an out-of-the-blue phone call. “Don’t do this work any more, send it to doctors in Victoria.”

This change has created potential life-threatening situations and, at the very least, has added unnecessary stress to people already suffering through longer wait times, increased uncertainty and delays in treatment. North Island doctors are concerned that people will die as a direct result of not having clinical pathologists’ services onsite in the Valley and Campbell River.

And here’s another problem: our elected hospital board directors have no say at all about operations at our hospitals. The extent of their job, it appears, is to ask taxpayers to pony up 40 percent of the capital costs for projects proposed by VIHA.

To their credit, hospital board directors wrote a letter to the VIHA board chair and BC Health Minister Adrian Dix asking them to restore the lab services VIHA has grabbed for Victoria. That would, in turn, free up funds for hiring a needed third general pathologist for the Campbell River Hospital.

That was last spring. To date there has been no response to their letter from Health Minister Dix and directors who asked to meet with him at the UBCM Convention were rebuffed. VIHA did respond with a presentation notable for its flawed graphs, inaccurate information and a confusing explanation that did not address the board’s concerns.

Now, the board is struggling with how to respond to this treatment and whether they even can advocate for the citizens of the North Island. It’s a problem foisted upon them by VIHA, which has neglected public sentiment and deflected its accountability.

 

HOSPITAL BOARD MUST ADVOCATE

The public has naturally turned to the one and only group of regionally accountable individuals available, the regional hospital board.

It was the hospital board that committed North Island taxpayers to pay for 40 percent of what we all assumed were two complete hospitals. We expected they would come with fully-functioning laboratories suitable for community hospitals, which we already had at the old Campbell River Hospital and at St. Joseph’s.

Now we have hospitals with diminished laboratory services, and who knows what further reductions are yet to come. This is not what we were promised when our hospital board committed us to a $267 million debt.

How is it possible that our elected local officials who sit on the Comox Strathcona Hospital Board are reduced to nothing more than a conduit through which VIHA extracts capital funding from local taxpayers with the blessing of a provincial government that thinks it cannot be held to account?

We elected the hospital board directors. It’s shameful that the province takes our money and treats them with such disrespect.

Can the board accept this role, standing idly by rather than rising up to advocate for North Island patients? Isn’t it right that, at the very least, they demand to have the services we paid expected? And that they continue to demand it until full hospital services are restored?

Their advocacy is important and can be powerful. And it’s their obligation to us, the constituents who are paying the bill.

 

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Patients, lab staff suffer from reduced pathology services at North Island hospitals

If Island Health executives get their way, the new Comox Valley Hospital could lose all of its onsite clinical pathologist services sometime next year, a move that area doctors and elected officials believe will further diminish patient care on the North Island. It’s already happened in Campbell River and wait times for results are getting longer

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

Flooding of the Courtenay Flats during previous heavy rainfalls

Maps will detail impact of sea level rise on Valley coastline

By George Le Masurier

It could be argued that climate change hasn’t yet impacted the daily lives of people in the Comox Valley. Yes, it has been drier for longer periods and a year ago the smoke from forest fires dimmed our skies and filled our lungs. The Comox Glacier is disappearing before our eyes.

These are minor events, however, compared to the torrential rains, flooding, droughts and intense super-hurricanes inflicting damage to other parts of the world.

But the serious consequences of climate change will soon reach our idyllic part of the world in the form of sea level rise.

Sea levels have risen by almost eight inches since the 1890s, an annual rate of about 0.06 inches per year, an amount barely noticeable except to those paying close attention.

But the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 0.14 inches per year since 2006, and scientists predict it will continue to speed up as global temperatures climb.

The latest dire warnings suggest sea level could rise by as much as 1.3 feet by 2050 and up to 8.2 feet (2.5 metres) by 2100, depending on the success of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

FOCUS ON COMOX VALLEY IMPACTS

To determine how rising sea levels will affect the Comox Valley coastline, the Comox Valley Regional District is undertaking detailed mapping of the regions 200 kilometres of coastline, from the Oyster River to Fanny Bay, including Denman and Hornby islands.

With a $500,000 grant from the National Disaster Mitigation Program, the CVRD hired Kerr Wood Leidal consulting engineers to assess the coastline from a geological perspective. They will produce maps and supporting technical data for five scenarios of sea level rise in the years 2030, 2050, 2100, 2150 and 2200.

The report will be a helpful planning guide for emergency management as well as for new development. And, the information will inform the CVRD how to make corresponding policy and regulatory changes, such as floodplain construction levels and setbacks.

The data will also help the CVRD predict how much flooding will occur and how long each flooding event will last.

“Sea level rise is coming whether we think it is or not and governments are being asked to act,” Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s senior manager of the Regional Growth Strategy and sustainability, told Decafnation. “This will create a lot of hard conversations.”

With rising sea levels pouring over portions of our coastline, how close to the foreshore should building be allowed? Where should local governments put new infrastructure? How should local government manage its assets, such as parkland and archaeological sites? Who will pay for the restoration or relocation of assets?

Sea levels most certainly will have an effect on future land use planning.

“The CVRD may get a request to put a park here or a development there, but that property may be underwater in 20 years,” Mullaly said. “I’m thinking about the weighing of values that we, as a community, will need to do in dealing with climate change.”

 

RICHER DATA FOR ENGINEERS

To do this coastal flood mapping, the consultants will use LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) to survey land remotely and produce high resolution topographic contours. The province has already flown LIDAR equipment over our area to collect the raw survey data and the consultants will process the data for use in the development of hundreds of maps.

Right now, communities that do not have coastal flood mapping generally rely on the requirements set by the province, which are based on mapping from the 1970s and 1980s.

Those maps did not account for any sea level rise, and neither does the current CVRD floodplain bylaw.

But by professional code, once engineers know something they have to consider it, and they have been taking sea level rise into account based on limited information. This report will give engineers richer local data.

Coastal flood mapping will put the CVRD in compliance with the Coastal Food Hazard Guideline, which is the main resource for engineers designing construction projects.

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE PUBLIC

After the report is delivered by March 31 next year, the CVRD will hold public engagement events to inform citizens of its findings, which will ultimately lead to
recommendations for bylaws and other relevant regulations and guidelines.

“Sometimes it has been difficult for citizens to pinpoint the source or motivation when government rules change,” Mullaly said. “This won’t be one of them. This is not an arbitrary change. Sea level rise is coming.”

 

HOW HIGH WILL SEAS RISE?

The provincial government’s official prediction for sea level rise is a half-metre by 2050, one metre (just over three feet) by 2100 and two metres (about 6.5 feet) by 2200.

But that’s too low by at least half, according to recent scientific studies and the consulting engineers who did a similar mapping project for the City of Campbell River.

Northwest Hydraulic Consultants told Campbell River that the province’s projection “might be conservative.” One of the firm’s engineers, Grant Lamont, said it depends on future greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly ocean warming expands.

The loss of polar ice will accelerate in the second half of the century, Lamont said, and force people to cope with larger changes in shorter periods of time.

He recommended planning for two metres of sea level rise by 2100, as the states of California and New York have done.

Campbell River’s report suggests flooding will threaten downtown streets and buildings, and that local governments purchase coastal properties and turn them into pre-flooded parkland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLIMATE REFUGEES RETREAT FROM COASTLINES

There will be 13 million climate refugees in the United States by 2100. This report tells the story of a Lousiana town being relocated before sea level rise makes it uninhabitable. It portends to be the first of many retreats for existing coastlines.

The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska’s western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase — faster there than in the rest of the U.S. — the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. Now, in an unprecedented test case, Newtok wants the federal government to declare these mounting impacts of climate change an official disaster. Villagers say it’s their last shot at unlocking the tens of millions of dollars needed to relocate the entire community.

 

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More Environment | Top Feature
The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

Only big, bold and probably unpopular actions are needed now to slow down climate change  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re feeling curious about many things, but especially this: After today’s climate march will a genuine sense of emergency finally hit home throughout the Comox Valley?

The Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action group has called for another climate strike today. It starts from Simms Park in Courtenay at 1 pm.

Perhaps another 3,000 people or more will march through Courtenay’s streets to show growing support for actions by individuals and governments to lessen or delay the disastrous effects of climate change.

Climate activist and Courtenay CouncillorWill Cole-Hamilton reminded us last week of the important role that public demonstrations play. They give us a sense of well-being; that we’re doing something positive to fight back unthinkable horrors.

And seeing growing numbers of committed people atted public demonstrations gives social license to businesses and governments to take bolder actions to save our planet.

And here comes the ‘but.’

But so far we haven’t seen any bold actions by leaders locally, provincially or nationally.

Yes, we have taken small steps. We’ve banned single-use plastic bags. We’re in the process of adding charging stations for electric vehicles. We’ve banned the extraction and bottling of groundwater or municipal water for commercial purposes. On a national level, Canada did sign the Paris Accord.

Cities and towns all over the world are taking small steps like these, and many other nations made pledges in Paris. Yet, carbon dioxide emissions have risen by an average of 1.5 percent per year for the past 10 years. We coughed up 55 gigatonnes last year. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 407.8 parts per million.

To put that into perspective, scientists say global carbon emissions must drop by 7.6 percent per year for the next 10 years, or the world faces catastrophic consequences.

Small steps won’t get us there.

If we continue taking small steps most of the Courtenay Flats including Puntledge Road, the Lewis Centre, the gas station on Dyke Road and the K’omoks First Nation band hall will be flooded. So will the Courtenay Airpark. Jane Place in Comox will be underwater. The little bit of high ground near the tip of Goose Spit will become an island. The low lying farm land below CFB Comox that the Queen’s Ditch flows through will flood and begin the process of reverting to the saltwater bay it once was.

Think about the sewage pump station on the banks of the Courtenay River, and the Kus-kus-sum site.

Sea level rise will continue, droughts will last longer, forest fires will increase … and on and on it goes.

We don’t have time for small steps. I know many people think that some new technology will emerge and save us. I hope they’re right.

But we need that silver bullet today. Not five years from now. That’s too late, if you believe the science, and you must or you wouldn’t be marching today. And, if you don’t and you’re not marching, then you’re making the mountain that much higher for the rest of us to climb.

It’s nice that our local governments have declared ‘climate emergencies.’ But what does that really mean beyond lip service?

Have any of our municipalities dumped their fossil-fuel burning fleet of vehicles and purchased all electric models? Have any of them taken away gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and grass trimmers from their public works staff? How many have installed solar panels on all of their municipal buildings?

The City of Courtenay and the Comox Valley Regional District have built a new office building on higher ground. That’s smart. But is it a LEED-certified building? No. Is it a net-zero energy building right now? No. Will it be complaint with the new BC Energy Step Code step building code when it goes into effect in 2032?

I know what you’re thinking. These changes take time. They cost money. People aren’t willing to pay the high taxes needed to change-out fleets of cars and hire more municipal staff to rake leaves. Builders aren’t constructing only net-zero energy buildings because people can’t afford them. These things are true.

But when our coastline starts disappearing and people lose their homes or can no longer get insurance or sell them because everybody is retreating as fast as they can to higher ground, then what?

I don’t know how we drop global emissions by 7.6 percent per year. We’ve never done it. In fact, we’re headed in the other direction even now.

But one thing is for sure: We need bold leaders willing to take bold actions — unpopular as they might be — or we’re in for natural disasters of a magnitude we clearly haven’t fathomed.

So march today. But take big steps, not small ones.

 

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