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?



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.



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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More Commentary | Health Care | News

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

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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More Commentary | Environment | News

Ocean farming: more food, less land, reduced GHG emissions

The climate crisis will force us to produce more food on less land while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. For Bren Smith, director of the non-profit group Greenwave, this transition means expanding our definition of farming to include the ocean

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

The Week: Where did the Attorney General go; and, Trudeau’s middle ‘class’

The Week: Where did the Attorney General go; and, Trudeau’s middle ‘class’

Boys playing pool, circa late 1970s  |  George Le Masurier

The Week: Where did the Attorney General go; and, Trudeau’s middle ‘class’

By George Le Masurier

It appears that the BC Attorney General’s office may have changed its view of the Town of Comox’s desire to alter the Mack Laing Trust. How else to explain the last eight months of dead silence?

It’s been so long ago you may not remember that the town wants to tear down Laing’s historic home, called Shakesides, and spend the life savings that he gifted to the people of Comox on something other than what the trust agreement allows.

But in early May, the Attorney General surprised both the town and the Mack Laing Heritage Society by announcing a delay that they said could last about five months. The AG gave no reason for the delay. The town had hoped to go to trial during the court’s June sessions.

FURTHER READING: More about Hamilton Mack Laing and Shakesides

That five-month delay has now turned into eight months and counting. And the AG’s office still refuses to explain why or what it’s doing to bring the case to a resolution. Even town councillors have no idea what’s going on at the AG’s office.

Has the Attorney General reconsidered its support of the Town of Comox after taking the District of West Vancouver to court in July? The AG argued in that case that the municipality broke a similar agreement with two residents who had bequeathed their property.

Or, did the town’s failure to properly consult with the K’omoks First Nations set off alarms in the AG’s office?

Perhaps the Mack Laing Heritage Society’s comprehensive business plan that shows widespread community support for restoring Shakesides — more than two dozen individuals and construction companies have volunteered labor and materials — has caught the Attorney General’s attention.

Or maybe the AG’s office has finally realized how badly the town has handled Mack Laing’s generous gifts, especially the finances.

We can only hope one of these issues have given the Attorney General a crisis of conscience.

For nearly three years, a 5-2 majority of Comox councillors have been trying to ram their application through the BC Supreme Court. They spent the first two years, and three expensive Supreme Court hearings, attempting to block the Mack Laing Society from presenting evidence at trial.

Ex-mayor Paul Ives led this charge and current Mayor Russ Arnott has happily carried the torch. They have cost Comox taxpayers huge amounts of money trying to justify their actions.

Meanwhile, Shakesides sits in disrepair. But as Craig Freeman and the Merville Community Association have proved, it’s neither difficult nor expensive to preserve and rejuvenate a historic building, and give it a new life for public enjoyment.

The minority Liberal government announced a new cabinet post this week: Mona Fortier was appointed Minister of Middle-Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance.

Does that term ‘middle-class’ bother anyone else? Don’t we really mean middle-income? Does Canada have a class system?

Giving middle income families the label of ‘middle-class’ suggests there is an upper class and a lower class.

I don’t know about you, but in my world, people who have higher incomes don’t necessarily warrant a ‘higher class’ status than anyone else. In some instances, I’d argue the opposite. Likewise, people who have had less financial success in their lives don’t warrant ‘lower class’ status.

I’m nitpicking, perhaps. But how we use language affects people and reveals a truth about how we see the world. Doesn’t assigning a ‘class’ to our income levels say something unfavorable about our sense of social justice and personal worth?


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Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

Winter is coming  |  George Le Masurier photo

Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

By George Le Masurier

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.”
— Author Margaret Atwood, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.)


The firing of Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan is just one part of the turmoil surrounding the Town of Comox. And it might not even be the town’s most expensive headache.

Unhappy public works employees, false allegations carelessly publicized, two expensive Supreme Court lawsuits, a road project that won’t end and a fired CAO walking away with a pile of cash.

Comox Town Council must have been desperate to get rid of their long-time CAO. According to a reliable source within town hall, councillors gave him a whopping severance package totalling $350,000.

Council members aren’t talking about why or how much, and definitive confirmation of the amount won’t come until at least the town releases its 2019 financial statements. But our source is somebody who would know.

The provincial Public Sector Employers Act generously caps severance pay at 18 months after five years of service. That only applies to executives in health authorities, K-12 and post-secondary education institutions and Crown corporations. It doesn’t apply to municipalities. Small towns like Comox should be much further down the pay-out scale.

But even on that basis, Kanigan’s 2018 salary of $140,028, plus $8,056 in expenses, would have put his golden parachute around $210,000.

So what was the extra $140,000 for?

Did Kanigan have some good buddies in high places who approved a sweet deal in his contract? Did counmcil just want him gone in a hurry and they didn’t have a strong enough case to warrant or withstand a protracted wrongful dismissal suit? Did they pay him extra so some dirty laundry didn’t get hung out publicly? We don’t know.

One thing we do know is that Kanigan’s firing had nothing to do with the fake allegations that the town’s public works employees were harassing Highland High School students. That story should have never been splashed across the front page of the local newspaper. It was an anonymous letter and the paper did no investigation that corroborated any of the allegations.

It was probably written by someone with a motive to cast nefarious suspicions on public works employees, and it wasn’t worth the space or time spent on it.

That said, there have been personnel problems in the town’s public works department that may yet end in the courts. And the basic road reconstruction of Noel Avenue has taken way too long — so far, all summer and most of the fall. It continues to disrupt a private school and a residential neighborhood.

Somebody seriously miscalculated something.

Kanigan’s departure also creates some problems for the town. Foremost, it makes the town’s petition to the BC Supreme Court to alter Mack Laing’s trust agreement quite a bit more tenuous. The town wants to tear down Laing’s iconic home, called Shakesides, and spend the famous naturalist’s money on other things.

But only two people have submitted affidavits to the court defending the town against the mountain of evidence compiled by the Mack Laing Heritage Society: Richard Kanigan and former finance direct Don Jacquest. And guess what? Neither of them are still employed by the town.

That alone might not be fatal to the case. But what if the BC Attorney General’s office suddenly realized that among the hundreds of pages of documents submitted by the Mack Laing Society there was evidence of questionable handling of procedure and critical information? And what if that also happens to be something similar to the reasons council fired their CAO and paid him a king’s ransom to keep whatever it is a secret?

Last spring, the Attorney General requested a hiatus in the Mack Laing court case. That delay has now turned into five months and counting.

What makes that so odd was Comox Mayor Russ Arnott’s anxiousness to settle the matter. He railroaded a quasi public hearing last March to rubber-stamp the town’s plan, although he forgot to consult with the K’omoks First Nation. And then the mayor was in such a rush to get back into the courtroom that he didn’t even want to finish the 90-day abeyance agreed to by council.

Yet, here we are eight months later, going on nine, and no court dates are scheduled. No negotiations are taking place. Nothing. It’s dead air.

Except, of course, there’s the matter of the huge legal bill the town rang up trying — and failing — to keep the Mack Laing Heritage Society evidence out of the Supreme Court’s hands. That bill could be getting close to what Kanigan’s golden parachute should have been.

And then there’s the matter of the $250,000 lawsuit over the town polluting Golf Creek and failing to take corrective measures in how its deals with stormwater, despite repeated recommendations from more than one consulting firm.

So, who knows what’s really going on? But it has begun to look like a more deeply rooted problem.



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North Island Hospital clinical pathology lab work threatened by VIHA, sign the petition

North Island Hospital clinical pathology lab work threatened by VIHA, sign the petition

Decafnation file photo

North Island Hospital clinical pathology lab work threatened by VIHA, sign the petition

By Barbara Biley

As a result of changes made by the Vancouver Island Health Authority to lab services in the Campbell River hospital the lab itself is in peril and the lab at the Comox Valley Hospital is also in danger.

The lab is integral to the functioning of the hospital, essential for diagnoses to allow the hospital to deliver the care that patients need. The staff in the lab include medical lab assistants, laboratory technologists, and pathologists.

The pathologists are the doctors that analyse and interpret the results of clinical (blood and body fluids) and anatomical (tissue samples) tests. The functioning of the lab depends on all the staff working together as a team to provide timely accurate results that determine treatment.

Both North Island hospitals were built with labs equipped and staffed to do the same level of work that was done in the old hospitals, except microbiology.

The removal of microbiology is itself interesting.

In the planning of the new hospitals, up to and including the awarding of the contract to the consortium which built the hospitals, both labs included full microbiology services. It was not until months later that lab staff were informed by VIHA that there would be no microbiology in the new hospitals. Unfortunately there is a significant history of deception on the part of the VIHA in dealing with both the local hospital boards, health care staff and the public.

How our labs function

All five pathologists in our two North Island hospitals are general pathologists, but they are, for now, treated differently by VIHA.

The old Campbell River Hospital was owned and operated by VIHA, while St. Joseph’s General Hospital was an affiliate owned and operated by the Catholic Diocese of Victoria. So the contracts between VIHA and the Pathologists — there are two in Campbell River and three in the Comox Valley — are different.

The Comox Valley contract prohibits VIHA from removing clinical pathology from the Comox Valley Hospital until next year when the contracts expire. VIHA has said it intends to move all clinical pathology from both hospitals to Victoria, where it will be done by the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation (VICPCC).

Why move testing to Victoria?

The removal of services from the North Island began in 2014. A group of Pathologists in Victoria formed VICPCC and VIHA awarded them all the clinical pathology work that had previously been done at the Campbell River Hospital.

The move of clinical testing to Victoria and VIHA’s failure to fund the Campbell River hospital for a third full-time pathologist faces massive opposition from the lab staff, 75 Campbell River doctors, the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board, Mt. Waddington Health Network, Campbell River City Council, Citizens for Quality Health Care and the public, and all but one of the North Island Pathologists.

Why? Shipping tests to Victoria for interpretation greatly increases the turnaround time between when the blood, CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid) or urine sample is taken at the CR lab and when the local doctor gets the results. This is extremely problematic in urgent, emergent and life threatening situations.

The other consequence, equally problematic, is that lab staff and local doctors who, in deciding which tests to perform, or facing other questions when preparing samples for the pathologists, no longer have a pathologist in the hospital that they can consult.

So consultation is done by phone or email, and those who need answers often wait hours or days for responses that they could have gotten in minutes from an on-site pathologist. VIHA says this delay is justified because “specialists” are analyzing tests.

The problem is that “specialist” is not a synonym for “better.” In this instance the opposite is the case. The pathologists in the North Island hospitals are highly trained general pathologists with many years’ experience in doing the clinical and anatomical pathology testing which is required by North Island patients.

The way the labs function is that those tests that require the attention of a specialist are sent to Victoria or Vancouver or wherever the specialists are located. This allows the lab staff to process tests in the most timely manner and for the lab assistants, lab technologists and pathologists to support and assist one another as needed.

An example: Recently a lab assistant needed advice from a pathologist on appropriate procedures for blood tests ordered for a patient who was being tested for leukemia and other possible disorders. With the patient waiting in the lab, the lab assistant called Victoria for advice. The response to her phone call was that she should send an email to Victoria, which she did.

The patient returned to the lab twice that day for a response but three weeks later there had still not been a response from Victoria to the lab tech or the patient.

Before clinical pathology was moved to Victoria, the lab assistant would have had immediate access to the pathologist at the hospital.

Ironically, the pathologist is still there, just a two-minutes walk for the lab assistant, but she is not permitted to ask him.

At Sept. 19 meeting, the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board heard a presentation from Dr. David Robertson, Executive Medical Director GEO One (North Island) speaking for VIHA in which he justified the changes on the grounds that it is better for patients to have tests interpreted by specialists.

I attended that meeting and was appalled at how disrespectfully the board members were treated by Robertson.

Robertson presented a powerpoint explaining VIHA’s plans for the labs, complete with a graph “proving” better turnaround on tests sent to Victoria. It is a falsified graph, which was proven false over two years ago.

Robertson made no effort to explain VIHA’s plan in terms that non-medical professionals could possibly understand, although that is entirely possible to do.

While he was speaking board members were given a different powerpoint, a presentation made earlier in the month to Campbell River Council by the one North Island pathologist who agrees with the VIHA plan. The distribution of that doctor’s powerpoint (a presentation not even addressed to their board), during Robertson’s presentation, created maximum confusion.

The upshot was that, 1) it was so unclear that board members started asking Robertson questions related to the document which they had just received, thinking it was his when he had never even seen it; and, 2) the impression was created that all that is going on is some kind of professional disagreement between the two pathologists at the Campbell River hospital, which board members, reasonably so, want nothing to do with.

What should be done?

VIHA is trying to present this new model as “better” because “specialists” will do all the clinical pathology testing.

We see this as the equivalent to arguing that seventh graders will receive better teaching from a Ph.D in mathematics, online, than an appropriately trained middle school teacher in the classroom.

They won’t. A trained middle school teacher has the skill set appropriate to the work; in addition, the middle school teacher can teach other subjects whereas the Ph.D math teacher cannot. A general pathologist has the skill set appropriate to the work required by our hospitals and the versatility to do myriad tasks that a community hospital requires.

It makes no sense to have specialists three hours away doing the work that general pathologists on site can do. Similarly, our patients do receive the service of specialists when that is needed, specifically when a patient or their sample is moved to a tertiary center such as Victoria or Vancouver.

To send all clinical pathology to Victoria is a waste of resources on both ends.

Instead of destabilizing and degrading the capacity of the Campbell River lab, VIHA should reinstate clinical pathology and provide funding for three pathologists so that there is adequate coverage for vacation and other leaves.

Barb Biley, a member of Citizens for Quality Health Care, is a Courtenay resident. She can be reached at









Citizens for Quality Health Care is circulating a petition which will be presented to the legislature in November, which calls for

  • Funding for three pathologists for the Campbell River hospital (currently funded for 2.4 and the work being done by 2)
  • Reinstating clinical pathology service locally.
  • An independent investigation into the apparent conflict of interest that resulted in the contract between VIHA and VICPCC (at the time that the contract was signed Dr. Gordon Hoag was both a shareholder in the corporation and VIHA’s Department Head for Pathology)

Copies of the petition are available and have to be returned by Nov. 14 to Lois Jarvis, 221 McLean St., Campbell River, V9W 2M4, 250-287-3096, or Barb Biley, 1868 Willemar Ave., Courtenay V9N 3M6, 250-338-3149.



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More Commentary | Health Care

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

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

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

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

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

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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