Shirley and Paul Brown share how the CRH pathologist shortage impacted their lives

Shirley and Paul Brown share how the CRH pathologist shortage impacted their lives

Shirley and Dr. Paul Brown  |  Submitted photo

Shirley and Paul Brown share how the CRH pathologist shortage impacted their lives

By George Le Masurier

Ever since the Vancouver Island Health Authority started reducing pathologist services at Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals in 2013, North Island citizens have endured longer wait times for their biopsy and other lab results.

Many have complained. And health care professionals and some local government officials have added their voices to the need to restore full laboratory services to the North Island hospitals.

But VIHA, sometimes called Island Health, has denied that reduced pathologist services have created delays in test results.

Now, a well-known Campbell River physician and his wife have come forward with their personal story about how Island Health’s policies have impacted their lives.

MORE: Patients suffer from reduced pathologist services

Dr. Paul Brown, a Campbell River family doctor for 40 years, has launched a series of complaints to Island Health, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the BC Health Ministry and local officials regarding a significant delay in a cancer diagnosis that caused his wife anxiety and altered her cancer treatment plan.

Brown told Decafnation this week that his wife, Shirley, had a routine surgical procedure on Dec. 9 at CRH to remove an ovarian cyst.

Five weeks later, the pathology report was still unavailable. Shirley was anxious to learn the outcome of her surgery.

Because Brown knew the system, he called the pathology department at Campbell River Hospital and discovered the problem. There was only one pathologist working during the time that Shirley’s samples were being processed.

The pathologist had not yet reviewed the slides and had not made a diagnosis. He was prompted to review her slides and consult with his colleague who had just returned from holiday.

Two days later, Shirley learned that she had cancer.

It took another 10 days for a specialist pathologist in Victoria to confirm the diagnosis. Shirley saw an oncologist at the Victoria Cancer Clinic two months after her surgery.

 

PATHOLOGIST SHORTAGE

The hospital has two full-time pathologists, but when Island Health unilaterally transferred all clinical pathologist services to a private corporation in Victoria, called the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation, CRH lost funding to hire a needed third pathologist.

Currently, CRH’s two pathologists must cover each other’s shifts, vacation time, sick time and other required absences. That means that for a third of the year, up to 18 weeks, CRH may have only one pathologist on duty.

The delay in receiving the confirmed diagnosis moved the oncologists to start chemotherapy before the recommended surgery to stage the cancer and remove any visible tumour. Shirley completed chemotherapy in June.

At the end of July, she had surgery to complete staging and to remove visible cancer. A small deposit of cancer was found at her second surgery and more chemotherapy has been prescribed.

If the pathology report had been delivered in the recommended time frame, she would likely have had surgery first, followed by chemotherapy a couple of weeks later.

It is impossible to predict the outcome of that scenario but the treatment plan would have been completed much sooner, and Shirley would have experienced much less anxiety by knowing the stage of her cancer.

 

DISINGENUOUS REPLY FROM ISLAND HEALTH

Seven months ago, Brown initially complained to Island Health’s Patient Care Quality Office and he’s still waiting for a response. Every 20 days or so, he receives an email saying they are still working on the file.

He has also contacted North Island MLA Claire Trevena, Health Minister Adrian Dix and his deputy minister. He has not received a reply from any of them.

It’s an understatement to say the Browns are “frustrated by the lack of engagement by elected officials.”

Brown did get a reply to a letter he sent to Dr. Robertson, Island Health’s executive director of lab and pathology, on March 16 of this year. In this letter, Brown described what he considered were the troubling aspects of his wife’s case, including the delay in getting a diagnosis.

“I cannot express the anguish that this delay in diagnosis has caused us … (and it has) left me with concerns regarding the safety of the current delivery of lab and pathology services at CRG,” Brown wrote to Robertson.

In a reply dated May 20, Robertson denied any knowledge that having one pathologist on duty presented a problem.

Brown replied to Robertson on May 25 to refute this claim.

“The fact that you, as you have asserted in your letter, were unaware of concern regarding delays in surgical turnaround times when one of the pathologists was on holiday is incorrect,” Brown wrote.

Brown’s reply refers to several meetings that Roberston attended where the concerns were openly discussed, including the July 22, 2019 Campbell River City Council meeting and the April 11, 2019 meeting of the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board.

Brown told Robertson that to profess no knowledge of the concerns was “disingenuous to say the least.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INFO TO KNOW ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER

 

Symptoms
Early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few and nonspecific symptoms that are often mistaken for more common benign conditions.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
Abdominal bloating or swelling
Quickly feeling full when eating
Weight loss
Discomfort in the pelvis area
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
A frequent need to urinate

When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a genetic counsellor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

— www.mayoclinic.org

 

 

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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

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

Dr. Chris Bellamy, a well-known pathologist who practiced in the Comox Valley for 31 years  |  submitted photo

Last two CVH pathologists resign angry and exasperated by Island Health tactics

By George Le Masurier

For the past 31 years, Dr. Chris Bellamy has been a stabilizing figure in the Comox Valley hospitals’ medical laboratories. The mild-mannered pathologist earned the respect of his colleagues by working days and often nights to provide timely and accurate diagnoses for physicians and patients.

His stellar reputation extended beyond the Comox Valley. His peers around the province recruited him to serve on professional boards and committees, including one that revisited pathologist workload models and studied how they should be used in pathologists contracts provincially.

He mentored a wide array of medical technicians and laboratory assistants and provided them with the real-life education that can only be learned on the job.

When Bellamy first came to St. Joseph’s General Hospital in 1989, he was the Comox Valley’s only pathologist. As a general pathologist he did both the clinical and anatomical streams of the medical specialty. 

As the community’s population grew and the hospital’s workload increased, Bellamy was joined by Dr. Wayne Donn in 1999 and Dr. Stefania Giobbe in 2015, also general pathologists. The three doctors covered for each other’s vacation time and shared the after-hours calls and weekend work.

But this rosy scenario took a dark turn about seven years ago when the Vancouver Island Health Authority (sometimes called Island Health) unilaterally started to implement a plan to eliminate general pathologists on the North Island.

MORE: The issue in a nutshell

In the future, VIHA planned to provide only anatomical pathology services on-site and turn all clinical pathology over to a private corporation of doctors in Victoria, called the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation.

Island Health started this change in 2013, but only at the Campbell River Hospital, where complaints of long wait times for results — some as long as six weeks for a cancer diagnosis — began almost immediately. 

The Comox Valley pathologists who worked at St. Joseph’s General Hospital, which was not under Island Health’s control, had different contracts that allowed them to practice general pathology and that remained in place through the opening of the new Comox Valley Hospital.

Island Health couldn’t take clinical pathology away from Bellamy, Donn and Giobbe, but it could encourage and pressure them to leave.

And it could refuse, after Dr. Giobbe went on extended medical leave in 2018, to provide any support to ease the workload. In response to requests from Bellamy and Donn for help, Island Health’s answer was to send the work to Victoria.

So it all came to an acrimonious end on June 21 when Bellamy and Donn jointly resigned. They gave two months notice.

“I was just exasperated and angry,” Bellamy told Decafnation. “I really felt forced out. VIHA was relentless in their pressure.”

“Politicians need to have their feet held to the fire”

According to sources within the Comox Valley Hospital, the Island Health announcement of Bellamy’s and Donn’s resignations did not thank the doctors for their years of service.

“And it was sent to the smallest audience possible,” the source said.

Bellamy said he feels sad for patients and staff, “who are bearing the brunt of what’s happening here.”

Their absence for the past two months has caused chaos at the CVH laboratory where most laboratory work is now shipped to Victoria. This has created longer wait times and has provoked some emotional patients to turn up at the lab, desperate for their biopsy results.

Since the pathologists resigned in August, Island Health has been unable to recruit any doctors willing to practice only anatomical pathology at the Comox Valley Hospital. The jobs remain vacant.

 

VICTORIA WAVES OFF CONCERNS

Dr. Chris Bellamy has been warning Island Health executives and North Island politicians about the dangers of shipping biopsy samples to Victoria to no avail. Now, he’s joining the call for a full external review of the situation.

Bellamy, Giobbe and Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a Campbell River general pathologist, met with Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard on Aug. 11, 2017, just prior to the opening of the new Comox Valley Hospital. North Island MLA Claire Trevena was also invited but did not attend.

MORE: 2020 candidates address the issue

The doctors’ goal was to save microbiology and other lab services from being moved from CVH to Victoria. They explained how even minutes counted in making a diagnosis. For example, they said in serious infections, such as meningitis, mortality rates nearly double if the diagnosis takes longer than an hour.

But Leonard said she would not interfere in what she perceived as an Island Health operational issue.

“If politicians don’t want to interfere in the daily operations of VIHA that can impact patient care and safety, then who is accountable?” Bellamy told Decafnation.

Bellamy now believes that an independent review is necessary because there is no accountability within Island Health for the delivery of lab services.

“You can’t point to any one person and say they are responsible,” he said. “It’s a matrix organizational structure, a latticework of managers who all point the finger of responsibility in another direction.”

Bellamy made further attempts to retain lab services on the North Island at meetings with Island Health and VICPCC doctors in 2019 and as late as March of this year. None were successful.

By summer, “it was game over,” for Bellamy and Donn. “From then on, it was just a matter of how to extricate ourselves from the situation,” he said.

 

BEYOND PATIENT CONCERNS

With Bellamy and Donn gone, the North Island now has no on-site clinical pathologist services. All of that work is now shipped to Victoria, mostly by courier.

That change has raised more concerns than long wait times and impacts on patient treatment plans. There are allegations of conflict of interest within Island Health.

Island Health signed it’s first multi-million dollar two-year contract with VICPCC in 2014. It signed a second two-year contract in 2017 under a non-disclosure agreement.

In the meeting with MLA Leonard in 2017, Bellamy, Tabarsi and Giobbe questioned the priority of these contracts.

“It is scandalous that a public body like Island Health would use taxpayer money to sign a multi-million contract with a private, for-profit corporation under a non-disclosure agreement,” the doctors wrote in their presentation to Leonard.

MORE: Medical centralization risks to public

And they alleged conflict of interest in how the contracts were awarded.

“Island Health allows some of the senior VICPCC shareholders to hold key administrative positions … including department and division heads who then dictate changes in service delivery to the detriment of the patients of the North Island and to their own financial benefit,” according to the presentation.

Island Health maintains there was no conflict of interest and has relied on a ruling by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, whose function is to protect the public.

Bellamy says Island Health has wrongly interpreted the College’s ruling.

“The College didn’t say there wasn’t any conflict, only that there was no conflict that had conclusively resulted in patient harm,” he said. “There was no absolute proof that patient care had been compromised because at the time no citizen had formally complained to the college.”

Since then, however, a citizen has made a formal complaint to the College, and there have been complaints to Island Health’s Patient Quality Care Office.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Dr. Donn has already taken another job in the Fraser Valley. Dr. Giobbe remains on medical leave.

Dr. Bellamy is taking time to decide whether to go back to work in another capacity or to retire. Regardless of what his future holds, Bellamy says he wants to see this issue finally resolved.

“Politicians need to have their feet held to the fire,” he said. “The Comox Valley Hospital laboratory service is no longer good value for money and Island Health won’t change without public pressure.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDICAL TERMS USED IN THIS ARTICLE

Anatomical pathology deals with tissue biopsies, such as biopsies from breast, colon, skin and liver.

Clinical pathology deals with body fluids such as blood, urine and spinal fluid, and includes three areas of specialization:

Microbiology deals with the identification of infectious organisms.

General pathologists are medical specialists who study an additional five years in all areas of pathology.

Clinical pathologists are medical specialists who study the same additional five years but in only one of the areas of specialization.

 

 

 

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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

Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond

Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond

The Comox Valley Hospital  |  Decafnation file photo

Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Hospital no longer has any on-site pathologists. Dr. Chris Bellamy and Dr. Wayne Donn both resigned on June 21, exasperated by Island Health’s refusal to adequately staff its North Island medical laboratories. Their last day was Aug. 21.

Their absence for the past two months has caused chaos at the CVH laboratory and lengthened the time that patients wait to receive test results. This has provoked some emotional patients to turn up at the lab, desperate for their biopsy results.

While this is a new reality at the Comox Valley Hospital, the reduction in on-site pathology services at the Campbell River Hospital has impacted the North Island for several years. It’s part of Island Health’s plan to centralize some medical services in Victoria.

But despite pleas for help from family doctors and other health care workers, individuals and groups such as the Citizens for Quality Health Care and the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board and other North Island municipal governments, neither Island Health or the NDP provincial government have responded with any relief.

And while the North Island’s concerns have focused on patient care, there are also allegations of conflict of interest within Island Health and the claim that taxpayers are no longer receiving the services they were promised and continue to pay for.

Decafnation asked each of the provincial candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding to address this issue (with no limit on length). Here are their unedited responses (in the order they were received):

 

GILLIAN ANDERSON — BC Green Party

While I am unaware of all of the factors involved with this decision, in principle, I am in favour of health care being delivered in patients’ home communities as much as possible. This strengthens our local healthcare system and creates jobs. When patients and families are waiting longer for test results, there is added worry and stress. What is the price of additional sleepless nights waiting for a result?

As the MLA for Courtenay-Comox, I would listen to the concerns of individuals across the riding and I would work towards a solution that addresses all of the issues involved.

 

 

 

BRENNAN DAY — BC Liberal Party

I took the time to consult with Dr. Bellamy on this issue, and what I heard was extremely concerning.

When St. Josephs was running, our community had a full-service laboratory, providing both anatomical and clinical pathology services; they had the autonomy to hire staff and general pathology was the priority with a focus on patient care here in the Comox Valley

During the planning phase of the new hospital, the pathology department was designed to be full service, in keeping with the St Josephs model, which was working well. The costing and design of the new hospital had this budgeted. At some point in the consultation process, Island Health pushed for microbiology to be removed from the hospital and centralized in Victoria, an experiment that had been tried in Campbell River previously with a resulting marked increase in turnaround times of results.

During the hospital planning process, the head of microbiology for Island Health lobbied the VIHA hospital planning committee for removal of microbiology services to Victoria while being a shareholder in a private company providing these services and therefore having a financial interest in the decision; the fact that this scandalous move was not more broadly reported is shameful as it has directly impacted the quality of healthcare here in the North Island.

Once the plan to centralize services in Victoria had been rammed through by VIHA, the taxpayers in the Comox Valley were stuck with the same tax bill, but considerably less local services and longer wait times. VIHA is currently in the process of transferring more clinical lab services from Comox Valley hospital to the private company in Victoria with further erosion of local services.

This is unacceptable.

Our current MLA was contacted multiple times by concerned physicians, nurses, and techs, but their concerns fell on deaf ears and no action was taken to advocate on behalf of the Comox Valley.

An independent external review must immediately be undertaken to analyze the decisions made by VIHA, as the costs have not been reduced by this decision, only the service we are receiving.

We need to build compassion back into the healthcare we are paying for in the Comox Valley, which was so well done by St Josephs for decades, and look hard at whether the VIHA regional governance model is really working, or if it is simply an organization with a bloated middle and little to no accountability to the taxpayers of the Island.

Our community and those affected by long wait times for serious diagnosis through this system are being ignored. I will make sure I advocate loudly to put compassion back into local healthcare, and ensure we are getting the services we deserve.

 

RONNA-RAE LEONARD — BC New Democrat Party

The challenge of privatized services is ensuring profit does not override the protection of the public interest. The previous BC Liberal government facilitated the privatization of many services that people rely on, from hospitals to hospital services, from long term care to home care, and so much more. There have been many negative consequences that the John Horgan government turned its attention toward, to bring the public interest back into the forefront.

We repealed the BC Liberal’s Bill 29 and Bill 94 and then introduced Bill 47 to remove the major financial incentives of contract flipping for companies which created an underpaid and unstable healthcare workforce and deprived seniors of a proper standard of care. We brought back community homecare to direct government services when homecare services became compromised. We brought the contracts for laundry and food services at the Comox and Campbell River Hospital back into the public system.

The quality of care and timeliness of service is also at the root of the concerns over pathology service. The BCNDP is committed to providing the care people need where and when they need it. A commitment to a 10-year cancer care plan demonstrates the closer to home commitment for the North Island, with a new Cancer Centre in Nanaimo.

The pathology services contract was awarded under the BC Liberals and was extended for one more year. It will be reviewed after that. We absolutely agree that lab services should be maintained in Courtenay and Campbell River, that’s why we’re hiring more people now. We’ve accomplished much, but there is still so much more to do. We can’t afford to go back to the BC Liberals.

 

 

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OCT. 24 PROVINCIAL ELECTION INFORMATION

The 2020 provincial election takes place on Oct. 24.

Advance voting is underway at various locations today in Comox, Courtenay and Merville and tomorrow in Black Creek, Comox and Courtenay.

Candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding are incumbent Ronna-Rae Leonard (NDP), Gillian Anderson (BC Greens) and Brennan Day (BC Liberals).

In the last election (2017), 66.89 percent of the riding’s 43,671 registered voters cast a ballot. The results were:

NDP Ronna-Rae Leonard received 10,886 votes or 37.36%

BC Liberal Jim Benninger — 10,697 votes or 36.72%

Green Ernie Sellentin — 5,351 votes or 18.37%

Leah McCulloch — 2,201 votes or 7.55%

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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

$52.6 million Dementia Village planned on former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site

$52.6 million Dementia Village planned on former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site

Providence Living’s rendering of its planned Dementia Village in the Comox Valley

$52.6 million Dementia Village planned on former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site

By George Le Masurier

Island Health announced a project development agreement with Providence Living today to build and operate a 156-bed dementia village on the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital site.

“Our government continues to take action to ensure seniors, especially those with complex care needs, are receiving the best care possible,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said in a press release this morning. “Friends and family should be confident knowing a loved parent or grandparent with dementia is in a safe environment, which is why I am pleased to see this project take another step towards meeting the needs of seniors in the Comox Valley.”

Read more about long-term care issues in the Comox Valley

Leah Hollins, Island Health Board Chair said she was”excited to see Vancouver Island’s first publicly funded dementia village be built in the Comox Valley.”

The dementia village will feature 148 publicly-funded long-term care beds and eight publicly funded respite beds. It will be built on the site of the existing The Views long-term care home and the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital. Once completed, the dementia village will replace the existing beds at The Views.

“We are very pleased to take this next step in fulfilling our mandate to provide innovative seniors care by building a long-term care home modelled on the concepts of a dementia village,” said Jane Murphy, President and CEO of Providence Living, and the former CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital. “The Views at St. Joseph’s has a long history in Comox, and we are committed to seeking community input to ensure we best meet local needs. We look forward to continuing our work with Island Health to advance our shared goal of helping seniors in the Comox Valley live to their full potential.”

The dementia village will include:

• Small, self-contained households of 12 residents where each resident will have their own room and bathroom, leading to heightened infection control in a modern space
• A social model of resident-directed care for people with dementia
• Fostering free movement of people with dementia within a home and village setting
• Ensuring resident involvement in everyday activities within the household or the wider, secure village
• Focusing on individualized smaller groupings; cultural bonds, friendships, social activities
• Emphasizing daily life and sense of belonging – involving residents with food preparation, cooking, laundry
• Amenities for residents and community that include community gardens, child daycare, Island Health-funded adult day programs, and a community space, art studio, bistro and chapel

Construction of the dementia village is estimated to cost $52.6 million. Island Health will provide annual operational funding to meet the province’s target of 3.36 direct care hours per resident day. Providence Living has already begun the redevelopment planning process, with a goal of starting construction in spring or summer 2021.

“As a resident of the Comox Valley for the past 30 years, I’ve seen the increased need for seniors’ care, and I’ve heard from people looking for choices in long term care homes to meet their specific holistic needs,” said Ronna Rae Leonard, parliamentary secretary for seniors and MLA for Courtenay-Comox. “This innovative dementia village will help seniors experiencing dementia continue to have a good and dignified quality of life.”

Island Health and Providence Living will be consulting and engaging with stakeholders and the community as the project moves ahead.

Providence Living is a new faith-based, non-profit health care organization established by Providence Health Care to redefine our collective expectation of seniors’ care in British Columbia. The formation of Providence Living came from a deep desire to be part of a global movement to completely rethink and reimagine the experience of seniors and others in need of care, replacing care homes with genuine communities.

The organization was formerly known as Providence Residential and Community Care, and supported by St. Paul’s Foundation, Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation, and Auxiliary Society For Comox Valley Healthcare.

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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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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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