Vanier grad Jonathan Page, now Canada’s leading pot doc, builds cannabis hub in Comox

Vanier grad Jonathan Page, now Canada’s leading pot doc, builds cannabis hub in Comox

Jon Page in his Vancouver headquarters of Anandia Labs — submitted photo

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

These days, when he’s in a reflective mood, Jon Page looks up from the cannabis plants in his Vancouver laboratory, and wonders if he subconsciously saw it coming. “It” being the frenzied corporate rush to capitalize on Canada’s legalization of recreational cannabis that has made him wealthy.

He certainly didn’t see it coming as a young boy growing up with his twin brother, Nick, on Headquarters Road, where they dug around under logs for interesting plants to feed his as yet unrecognized drive for scientific discovery. And not even when he earned his PhD in botany at UBC in 1998.

Nor did he see it coming when he studied how chimpanzees use plants as medicine in Tanzania, or when he did post-doctoral studies of alkaloids in opium and cannabinoids in cannabis in Germany.

Page did not even see it in 2009 — consciously, at least — when he became the first scientist in the world to sequence the 30,000 genes in the cannabis genome.

He might have caught a glimpse of it when he and chemist John Coleman opened their own cannabis testing and research laboratory in 2013, called Anandia Labs, which grew under his leadership to a company valued at more than $60 million in just four years.

And it still wasn’t a clear vision in his mind when he picked Comox to construct the world’s first-ever facility focused solely on the breeding and genetics of cannabis.

But the cannabis gold-rush did come for him.

Three months ago, Edmonton-based producer Aurora Cannabis acquired Anandia for about $115 million in stock.

And yet, the excitement Page feels about legalization and his new role as Aurora’s chief science officer overseeing multiple cannabis labs around the world, is not rooted in monetary rewards. For him, legalization means he can finally pursue cannabis research without reproach or limitations.

What Aurora really acquired was Jonathan Page, PhD., Canada’s leading cannabis scientist.

In an article in BC Business magazine earlier this year, molecular geneticist Tim Hughes, a professor at the University of Toronto and Page’s co-researcher in the cannabis genome sequencing project, called Page “the man in Canada when it comes to cannabis.”

Early years in the Comox Valley

Jon and Nick Page were born in Victoria in 1969, but grew up on a large Headquarters Road property with their parents, Dave and Linda. They attended Tsolum Elementary, where Jon and a friend won an award for a science project.

Both brothers had an academic focus at Courtenay Junior and G.P. Vanier, from which they graduated in 1987. They always received top grades, and always made the honour role. Jon recorded one of the province’s top mark in Biology 12.

Jonathan Page, PhD

It was his parents’ interest in farming and growing plants that fueled Jon’s youthful exploration of the natural world, and it has stayed with him.

“We studied plants in an unfocused sort of way as kids,” Page told Decafnation. “We’d peel the bark off trees, turn over logs for mushrooms.”

One possible trigger for this interest came in the 1980s, when the Pages were 10-year-olds, and the Comox Valley had unexpectedly become the Canadian epicentre of the magic mushroom phenomena. The Headquarters Road and Tsolum River area was at the heart of the action.

“Long-hairs from Montreal and other places were camped in vans alongside most of the back roads,” Page said. “They snuck onto farmers’ fields to pick them (mushrooms). It got quite nasty.”

But the scene piqued Jon’s curiosity about why plants in their backyard were so important to people from all over the country. Since then, he’s been interested in plants used by people for a purpose, and the cultural and chemical stories behind them.

A serious focus on cannabis

After high school, Page earned a BSc degree in plant biology. As a 21-year-old undergrad, he was awarded a grant to study plant use by chimpanzees in Tanzania, and the resulting paper he published put him on the science world’s radar.

By the time Page completed a PhD in botany in 1998 at UBC, his papers had been published in several academic journals. And that helped him get a five-year National Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant to do post-doctoral studies in Germany on alkaloids in cannabis and opium.

Page returned to Canada in 2003 to run his own lab at the National Research Council’s Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon, where he worked on cannabinoid biochemistry and discovered several of the enzymes involved in producing cannabinoids like THC. The Page Lab published several seminal papers on this subject between 2008 and 2012.

Sequencing cannabis DNA

The big idea to sequence the cannabis genome came via email from a molecular biology professor at the University of Toronto that he did not yet know. Tim Hughes, who now holds the John W. Billes Chair of Medical Research, had the idea and was directed to Page as the person who could do it.

Page at his Vancouver Anandia Labs

But finding a legal place to obtain cannabis DNA proved difficult in 2009. At the NRC, Page was only allowed to study hemp. And the Saskatchewan Prairie Plant Systems, a source of plants for science, wouldn’t give him access.

Finally, a friend in Vancouver, who worked with an authorized medical marijuana patient, donated leaves from a popular strain called purple (or pink) kush, a plant known to have THC levels in the 16 percent to 18 percent range.

The sequencing took weeks and the computer analysis of that data took months, followed by more time to write the research paper, which their team published in 2011. Page had already established his reputation as a leading cannabis scientist at the NRC, but the success of the genome sequencing project put him out in front of cannabis science in Canada.

By 2013, Page had tired of the work at NRC and was frustrated with general cutbacks in research funding by the Stephen Harper government, and its refusal to support cannabis research in particular.

So Page quit the NRC, took an adjunct professor position at UBC, and teamed up with chemist John Coleman to co-found Anandia Labs in November of 2013.

“Thanks to the Harper Conservatives, I took the leap into business,” he said.

Page says Anandia — the name comes a cannabinoid called anandamide, a Sanskrit word that means “bliss” — on two pillars:

Testing — In the heady days of medical marijuana, Health Canada required producers to conduct quality assurance tests for potency, pesticide residues, toxins, moulds and other microbiological contaminants that could pose health risks for consumers.

Breeding and genetics — The pure science of discovering how a plant works in order to create improvements, such as resistance to disease and growth properties, and could generate revenue from intellectual property rights.

Comox Innovation Centre

“Where we are with cannabis today is where we were 100 years ago with tomatoes,” says Greg Baute, who, like Page, earned his PhD at UBC and will run the Comox facility as the director of breeding and genetics. “In 1918, we knew more about corn than we do about cannabis today.

“But, until now, there has been no breeding effort at the scale Jon Page has started.”

Plant Director of Breeding and Genetics Greg Baute, left, and Anandia Project Coordinator Nick Page, right, on site at the Comox Innovation Centre at Military Row and Knight Road

Baute said the facility will employ about 15 PhD- or MSc-level employees, about two-thirds of which will work on genetics and the other third on the operations and horticulture side.

The new 31,500 square-foot phase-one facility in Comox will do all of Anandia’s breeding and genetics, and provide feed stocks for more medical strains of cannabis exclusively for Aurora, but the science will ultimately benefit the whole industry.

The $20 million first phase includes a 21,000 square-foot greenhouse and a 10,500 square-foot office situated on seven acres on Military Road, near the Knight Road roundabout. Future phases will expand both the greenhouses and the labs.

For strict sanitary and disease control, there will be no public access and no public tours of the facility. Employees entering the greenhouses will have to strip down in change rooms and wear only approved uniforms to prevent introducing diseases or bugs into a tightly controlled environment.

Baute said the centre will focus on disease resistance and preventing mould, powdery mildew and other diseases and pathogens common in commercial cultivation.

The building’s plans reveal a complex network of seven independently controlled zones, each fitted with its own air scrubbers to filter out pollen and contaminants. The system is designed with ion and carbon filters to remove odour, and to not spread mildew outside the facility.

“It’s a threat,” Boute said. “Because the greenhouse provides the ideal environment for them to grow.”

Brother Nick says cannabis is an evolving new industry that, until recently, was focused on the production side.

“The science side of cannabis was missing,” Nick Page told Decafnation. “The goal of the Innovation Centre is to be a hub for cannabis science.”

Nick is the project coordinator for Anandia’s Comox facility. He is coordinating the planning, design, technical details and construction of the Comox facility. He has a masters degree in plant ecology, and works as an environmental biologist in Victoria, focused on urban ecology and integrating urban projects into ecological landscapes.

The centre will also focus on plant architecture; the size and shape of plants. It’s an unlikely, but critical area of interest.

Modern greenhouses used by licensed producers such as Aurora in Edmonton and Medicine Hat and Montreal span up to 1.5 million square feet, and use robotics to space plants as they grow larger, and move them from grow areas to processing sites. Robots maximize every square inch of grow space.

Why Comox?

Jon Page could have built his new breeding and genetics centre anywhere. In fact, he first considered the Delta and Richmond areas of the lower mainland. But when he discovered both municipalities would require zoning changes and public hearings to allow cannabis facilities, he looked elsewhere.

“Getting a development permit for warehouse space in the Lower Mainland where people are more suspicious of cannabis businesses would take way too long in the furious race to market that exists in the cannabis world,” he said.

Nick Page and Greg Baute go over building plans with their construction foreman from Heatherbrae Builders, of Nanaimo

Through Comox Valley realtor Jamie Edwards — a friend of people Page knew from growing up here — he discovered the Town of Comox had already zoned land for cannabis uses.

“Whoever in the town decided to include cannabis in the airport industrial area zoning as acceptable uses was thinking way ahead of the potential of this industry,” Nick Page said. “It was the key to bringing us here.”

Jon Page says Comox wasn’t a goal destination, just because he grew up here. But the zoning, an airport with direct flights to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, the quality of life and affordable housing all factored into the decision.

Page said the ski hill, the mountain biking in Cumberland and other amenities will help Anandia Labs recruit the highly educated 20- and 30-year-olds he needs for the Comox Innovation Centre. And they are all well-paid jobs.

Centre Director Baute said he might not have accepted the position if it had been located in Vancouver.

“People don’t want to move to Vancouver anymore because the housing is expensive and the commutes are long,” Baute said.

And there was an additional positive factor in Page’s decision to pick Comox.

“More than a hometown connection, the Comox Valley is just more of a cannabis-friendly community,” Page said.

What’s next

Canada was the first country to authorize the medical use of marijuana, back in 2001. And Page was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome in 2011.

But despite these cutting-edge milestones, Canadian scientists were not allowed to stray far from narrowly-focused studies and enquiries than reflected current social norms. Canada is leading a lot of the medical science in cannabis, and Aurora’s labs will study that.

“Medical usage is not just stoners getting access to pot.” he said. “There are real benefits in neuropathic pain without the addictive properties of opiates, and help for anxiety, sleeplessness, MS and chronic pain.”

Legalization has changed that. It has bolted Canada to the forefront of cannabis research. It has given scientists like Page the freedom to probe the questions that its illegal status has raised but could not answer.

Did Page anticipate that would happen, or that the cannabis industry would explode at such a fast rate?

“Not consciously, but I must have seen it, or known it was important work,” he said. “I’m just a lab guy who saw an opportunity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME RANDOM FACTS ABOUT CANNABIS

CANNABIS — A member of the Cannabaceae family. Science is uncertain whether there are two species — cannabis sativa and cannabis indica — or three — adding cannabis ruderalis — or whether there’s only one: cannabis sativa. Indigenous to Central Asia.

CBD — A cannabinoid, like THC, but one that blocks or neutralizes the psychoactive effects of THC. This occurs when the CBD levels match or exceed THC levels in the plant. Being studied for therapeutic uses.

FLOWERS — The female cannabis plant produces flowers, which scientists need to research and develop. If a male plant pollinates the female plants, it will produce seeds, not flowers. So keeping male plants and pollen out of the facility is a top priority Except in breeding, where scientists rub the flower with pollen from a male plant to grow seedlings with unique characteristics.

GOLD RUSH — There are more than 60 publicly traded cannabis companies in Canada, and nearly 100 licensed cannabis producers — nearly a quarter of them in BC. They are all anxious to dominate the market. But while the focus four years ago was on cultivation, growing and production, it’s about retail and consumers today. And the focus is already shifting again toward being first to market with edible cannabis products. And the future focus will be on micro cultivation licenses to draw today’s lingering illicit growers into the legal system.

GROWING — The Cannabis Act allows adults to grow up to four plants per household. You may not sell the cannabis you grow at home.

HEMP — Jon Page discovered the single genetic switch that differentiates hemp, which has no THC, from cannabis, which does. Hemp plants are of the same species as cannabis, but while he was working at the NRC in Saskatoon he discovered hemp lacks a single gene that produces an enzyme that produces THC.

POPULAR — Before Oct. 17, 2018, cannabis was arguably the most popular illegal drug in Canada, and probably remains so around the world.

PREVIOUSLY LEGAL — Cannabis used to be legal and quite common. Before the early 1900s, cannabis was used in many medicinal tinctures. It wasn’t even listed on labels. The Opium Act of 1908 made cannabis illegal in Canada. It was effectively banned in the US buy the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

TERPENES — The chemical found in the trichomes of the cannabis plant, and which give cannabis its unique odour.

THC — A cannabinoid unique to cannabis plants that producess a psychoactive reaction. Technical name is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is found in the plant’s trichomes, tiny hairs on the flower and leaves of the plant. It is thought to be the plant’s defense against things that come to eat it. The plant’s seeds are key to its survival as a species, to propagate itself. The seeds are rich in fat and protein and are sought after, but the sticky, resinous THC is not palatable, and deters predators.

TRAVELING — It is illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border, whether leaving or coming into the country.

 

 

 

 

 

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

Photo by George Le Masurier

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

As a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island Health last year?

The critical shortage of long-term care and respite beds in the Comox Valley continues to cause problems for at home caregivers, many of whom are exhausted and in crisis. And it causes overcapacity issues at the Comox Valley Hospital, where patient s who need long-term care are stuck in acute care beds.

The contract award for new beds is already three months late and, according to an Island Health spokesperson, no announcement is imminent.

Island Health issued a Request for Proposal for 70 new long-term care beds over three years ago, but cancelled it a year later, and issued a new RFP this year. The health authority said it would award contracts by Aug. 31 of this year.

When it missed that deadline, Island Health said the contracts would be announced later in the fall. Now, three months later, the contracts have still not been awarded.

Asked what is holding up the awarding of contracts, Island Health spokesperson Meribeth Burton said, “Awarding a long-term care contract is a complex, multi-stage process. We want to ensure we are thoughtful in our decision because this facility will serve the community for decades to come.”

Island Health could give no date when the awards would be announced.

“We understand the community needs these additional resources and is anxious to learn when the contract will be awarded. We will be able share more details with the community once a project development agreement is finalized with a proponent,” she said. “We don’t have a firm date, but we will let you know as soon as we can.”

Burton said Island Health still pins the timeline for opening the new long term care beds at 2020.

In the meantime, 21 long-term care patients were relocated back to the former St. Joe’s Hospital, which reopened and renovated its third floor to create an additional and temporary long-term care facility. St. Joe’s already operates The Views for about 120 long-term patients. The new facility in the old hospital is called Mountain View.

The move was planned in part to relieve overcapacity issue at the Comox Valley Hospital.

Despite Island Health’s efforts, overcapacity still plagues hospitals, stresses staff

Despite Island Health’s efforts, overcapacity still plagues hospitals, stresses staff

Photo by George Le Masurier

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

This month, like last month, and the month before that and every month since the two new North Island Hospitals opened last year, they have been overcapacity.

So on most days, staff at the Courtenay and Campbell hospitals struggle to find space to put as many as 30-plus extra patients, and the peak hospitalization season that coincides with the influenza season is just getting started.

Overcapacity at the brand new hospitals is not the only critical health care need in the Comox Valley — see the sidebar story on long-term care beds — but it is a serious issue for overburdened hospital workers. And it does not bode well for communities with growing populations, and for whom the capacities of these hospitals were expected to be adequate until 2025.

The new Comox Valley Hospital opened on Oct. 1, 2017 with staff and patients budgeted for 129 beds. It was almost immediately plagued with overcapacity.

Patient numbers soared as high as 178 within a few months, a situation that has continued throughout the year and led to predictable consequences.

Staff trying to care for up to 49 extra Comox Valley patients became stressed and exhausted. They took sick days to recover, which created daily staff shortages and exacerbated the workload problems, according to sources.

Overcapacity also plagues Campbell River Hospital, where the maximum 95 beds were opened quickly and still runs overcapacity.

And it is not good for patients housed in makeshift accommodations at both hospitals.

Dermot Kelly, Island Health executive director for the region, told Decafnation that all hospitals across BC have overcapacity issues, and that the two North Island Hospitals are following an official Overcapacity Protocol.

Kelly said the protocol includes a number of steps to mitigate the overcapacity problems, including “working to reduce the length of stay within hospital, and improve access to care in the community.”

Community access measures include “increasing Home Support hours, implementation of Overnight Care Teams, new specialized services for those with Mental Health and Substance Use Challenges and improved supports for those who are medically frail,” he said.

And, he said the hospitals are working to increase access to Adult Day Programs and respite services “to better support the needs of patients and caregivers in the community.”

And the Comox Valley Hospital recently opened an additional 17 beds, for a total of 146 open beds (of the hospital’s maximum capacity of 153) with increased staffing levels, and moved out 21 long-term care patients, most of them going to a renovated floor at the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

Island Health has also increased the number of surgeries at the two hospitals, Kelly said. While that has reduced surgery wait times, it has also increased the number of hospital visits and stays.

But those efforts have so far not reduced patient levels to capacity or below.

The number of admitted patients ranged from 160 to 170 throughout October, reaching a high of 177 on Oct. 12. Those numbers are expected to increase significantly as the annual influenza season gets underway this month.

Sources have told Decafnation that extra patients at CVH have been housed in an unopened section of the emergency room. These patients are on stretchers, without standard beds or the same healing environment as regular rooms.

The Campbell River Hospital also remains dramatically overcapacity, but unlike the Comox Valley it has no unopened space to house them. Sources say patients are parked in hallways.

 

Overcapacity raises staff issues

A CVH source, who requested anonymity, said the overcapacity issues have kept staff morale low.

“We opened up a new ward and the morale is still not wonderful,” a source told Decafnation. “We are overcapacity everyday, and patients are getting discharged too early. I know this because the exact same patients that were discharged are back two days later.”

“People are without beds and there’s a full ward of aging population in the emergency overflow areas,” another source said. “We put elderly people in the pediatric ward sometimes. This causes so many issues.”

For some CVH workers, stress is caused by too many vacant positions, which forces staff into overtime, and because some departments didn’t get extra staff when the last hospital ward was opened.

Kelly said there were 91 vacant staff positions as of Dec. 6 between the two hospitals, which he blamed partly on the region’s rental and housing affordability issues that “directly impacted our ability to fill vacant positions and retain staff.”

Campbell River sources tell Decafnation that their hospital had more than 130 admitted patients last week. The hospital was designed for a maximum capacity of 95.

Campbell River staff are concerned that patient-to-nurse ratios are not being met. Overtime is rampant, they say, and staff is “being run off their feet.”

“Patients are now located in emergency rooms,” the source said. “Third floor sunrooms have been converted to bedrooms and two patients per room is common.

“There are rooms where one of the two patients has an infectious condition that should be in isolation.”

Our source said they feared this could cause a MRSA or similar infection alert.

But Kelly said Island Health’s Over Capacity Protocols ensure safe care in the hospitals.

“In cases of over census, guidelines for care have been developed to ensure we provide the best care possible. Our main goal is to provide safe and effective care in the most appropriate setting possible,” he said.

And he praised the hospitals’ staff as “incredibly passionate and dedicated, sometimes under challenging circumstances.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO WORD YET ON PROMISED 151 LONG-TERM CARE BEDS

As a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island Health last year?

The critical shortage of long-term care and respite beds in the Comox Valley continues to cause problems for at home caregivers, many of whom are exhausted and in crisis. And it causes overcapacity issues at the Comox Valley Hospital, where patient s who need long-term care are stuck in acute care beds.

The contract award for new beds is already three months late and, according to an Island Health spokesperson, no announcement is imminent.

Island Health issued a Request for Proposal for 70 new long-term care beds over three years ago, but cancelled it a year later, and issued a new RFP this year. The health authority said it would award contracts by Aug. 31 of this year.

When it missed that deadline, Island Health said the contracts would be announced later in the fall. Now, three months later, the contracts have still not been awarded.

Asked what is holding up the awarding of contracts, Island Health spokesperson Meribeth Burton said, “Awarding a long-term care contract is a complex, multi-stage process. We want to ensure we are thoughtful in our decision because this facility will serve the community for decades to come.”

Island Health could give no date when the awards would be announced.

“We understand the community needs these additional resources and is anxious to learn when the contract will be awarded. We will be able share more details with the community once a project development agreement is finalized with a proponent,” she said. “We don’t have a firm date, but we will let you know as soon as we can.”

Burton said Island Health still pins the timeline for opening the new long term care beds at 2020.

In the meantime, 21 long-term care patients were relocated back to the former St. Joe’s Hospital, which reopened and renovated its third floor to create an additional and temporary long-term care facility. St. Joe’s already operates The Views for about 120 long-term patients. The new facility in the old hospital is called Mountain View.

The move was planned in part to relieve overcapacity issue at the Comox Valley Hospital.

 

 

 

Vaccine available for the virus headed our way

Vaccine available for the virus headed our way

By George Le Masurier

Vancouver Island health care professionals are warning about a serious virus headed our way. Fortunately, there’s a vaccine.

 

Vancouver Island health care professionals are warning about a serious virus predicted to hit the Comox Valley in just a few weeks. The disease will hospitalize many and in some cases threaten the lives of those most vulnerable.

Fortunately, the Comox Valley Public Health Unit has a vaccine that can protect against the disease, and prevent its spread throughout the community.

It’s called the ‘flu shot.

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns said her offices started distributing the vaccine in October to Comox Valley medical offices and pharmacies, where most people get their annual vaccinations. And more people are getting them this year, probably due to a particularly bad epidemic last year.

Enns said the health unit had distributed more doses in the North Island by the end of last week — 35,000 — than it had last year in total. That mirrors Island-wide figures: 218,000 doses distributed so far this year, compared with a total of 225,000 during the 2017-2018 season.

But even this year’s upward trend in vaccinations isn’t enough, Enns told Decafnation. Only about 29 percent of the total Island population was vaccinated last year.

“The higher the vaccination percentage, the less likely the virus will spread,” Enns said. “We call it herd immunity. The vaccine protects those most at risk, and lessens the chance in others of transmitting it.”

The concept of herd immunity is how the world has eradicated major killer diseases. Vaccines have eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people, and has nearly vanquished polio. When more people get immunized, the risk factor diminishes for everyone. And that reduces the cost to the public health health care system.


The purpose of providing ‘flu vaccine is to reduce the likelihood of severe complications and death from influenza


 

Enns said those most at risk at the elderly and the very young. About 3,500 Canadians died last year, including several on Vancouver Island, from complications caused by influenza, such as heart attacks and pneumonia.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Toronto found that the risk of heart attacks jumped by 600 percent within the first days of an influenza infection.

Enns said public health can only estimate the number of deaths and hospitalizations caused by influenza, because it isn’t the disease itself that kills. The virus causes inflammation in the body, so the arteries in someone with heart disease close up more and trigger a heart attack or stroke.

The danger is similar for people with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma, or with kidney issues.

The University of Toronto study, which examined 20,000 patients with confirmed influenza, also found that the ‘flu shot reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 20 percent, and infected people were less likely to be hospitalized.

About 538 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of influenza on Vancouver island last year. But the number is probably many times higher because infected people don’t often get formally diagnosed.

Because the influenza virus mutates frequently, the Canadian Centre for Disease Control produces a new vaccine every year based on estimates of those mutations. As a result, the vaccine is usually between 60 percent and 70 percent effective.

“But it’s a good as we’ve got,” Enns said. “People who’ve had the ‘flu shot won’t get as sick and especially the most vulnerable. The purpose of providing ‘flu vaccine is to reduce the likelihood of severe complications and death from influenza.”

Some of the most vulnerable are frail seniors resident on long-term care facilities, due to their age and the probability of having health issues.

Enns said that makes it more important for those who care for them and visit them to get vaccinated and mount up their own immunity.

A cold weather virus

Medical professionals have puzzled over why influenza virus strikes hardest every year from November through March. Some theories suggested the short days and lack of sunshine, causing a vitamin D deficiency. Others theorized that people are crowded together indoors.

But most health professional now accept the conclusions of a 2007 study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York: cold, dry weather keeps the virus more stable and stays in the air longer.

‘Flu season in Canada starts in the eastern provinces and moves west as temperatures drop. Calgary has already been hit hard, with 510 confirmed cases since August.

In southern latitudes, the main ‘flu season runs from May until September. In the tropics, there is no real ‘flu season.

Why you should get the ‘flu shot

The ‘flu vaccine is our best defense against the virus and will not only protect you, but also the people you know and love.

–You can’t get the ‘flu from the ‘flu shot. It’s impossible. The viruses used to make the flu shot are dead. The worst side effect is a sore arm.

— It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to fully mount your immunity, so it’s best to get the shot early.

–Healthy people need to get a flu shot to protect people at risk and those who are not eligible. Newborn babies and adults with abnormally weak immune systems usually can’t get ‘flu shots. Their only protection comes from others getting the shot, and keeping the spread of ‘flu to a minimum.

— Influenza is a more serious infection than you may realize. It will exacerbate any underlying health conditions you already have, and may cause new problems, which for some can be deadly.

— It’s hard not to qualify for a publicly-funded (read: free) vaccination.

 

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

Photo by George Le Masurier BY GEORGE LE MASURIER s a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island...

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

The second in a series about stormwater begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with an effort to protect its pristine and intact headwaters

Morrison Creek headwaters are unique on Vancouver Island

The Comox Valley Lands Trust is “this close” to conserving a small portion of the unique Morrison Creek headwaters, but has its sights on protecting the entire oasis of swamps, ponds and marshes. A conservation area the size of Stanley Park.

Vaccine available for the virus headed our way

Vancouver Island health care professionals say a serious virus will hit the Comox Valley in a few weeks that will threaten the lives of those most vulnerable. Fortunately, they have a vaccine.

24 new care and respite beds opened at St. Joe’s

St. Joseph’s has transformed the third floor of its former acute care hospital into a temporary but attractive long-term care facility, until Island Health can build a promised 150 new beds in the Comox Valley. The announcement of contracts on the new beds has been delayed

ALC patients temporarily moving to St. Joseph’s

The former St. Joseph’s Hospital is being called back into action. Some patients in acute care beds at the Comox Valley Hospital, who are waiting for residential care beds, will move to St. Joseph’s to alleviate the new facility’s chronic overcapacity

24 new care and respite beds opened at St. Joe’s

24 new care and respite beds opened at St. Joe’s

St. Joseph’s has transformed the third floor of its former acute care hospital into a temporary but attractive long-term care facility, until Island Health can build a promised 150 new beds in the Comox Valley. The announcement of contracts on the new beds has been delayed

 

An almost brand new long-term care facility will open in the Comox Valley this week. Island Health is moving 21 patients who are currently in acute care beds at the Comox Valley Hospital to Mountain View, the renamed and completely renovated third floor of the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

The move, which begins on Wednesday, Sept. 5, is necessary because patients needing an alternate level of care have contributed to chronic over-capacity at the one-year-old Comox Valley Hospital (CVH).

A facility planned and budgeted for 129 admitted patients has been overcapacity since it opened last October, reaching as high as 178 patients, roughly 40 of those are patients who no longer need acute care but have nowhere to go given the Comox Valley’s critical shortage of long-term care beds.

Island Health has promised up to 150 new long-term care beds for the Valley, but has yet to award contracts for them.

The Request For Proposal said contracts would be awarded on Aug. 31, but an Island Health spokesperson has told Decafnation that the health authority hasn’t finished evaluating all the proposals. It’s now expected the contracts will be awarded later this fall.

In the meantime, Michael Aikins, Administrative Officer of The Views at St. Joseph’s, said reopening and renovating space in the former hospital for the 21 patients and three respite beds has created a flurry of activity.

St. Joseph’s has had just a few weeks to transform the medical/surgical third floor into a secure and comfortable long-term care facility.

“We’re doing everything we can to create a home-like environment for our new residents,” he said. “This will be their new home, and we want to make it a good one.”

St. Joseph’s has purchased new furniture and 32-inch televisions for each room, taken out walls, repainted everything, brought in a piano and a pool table and built custom cabinetry.

The former Intensive Care Unit was gutted and turned into a bright dining area. Other room have been opened up and combined into an activity area, a bistro and a lounge that features a wall of windows facing south overlooking Baynes Sound and the Beaufort Mountains.

The contract to reopen St. Joseph’s for long-term care is only for three years, until facilities to house the promised 150 new beds can be constructed. But Aikins said St. Joseph’s is doing “everything we can” to make it a first-class facility.

“We recognize that this will be their new home,” he said. “For some, it will be their last home, so we’re trying to make it special.”

The three-year contract will create approximately 35 new jobs in nursing, housekeeping and other services.

The St. Joseph’s kitchen, located in the basement of the 100-year-old hospital building currently serves more than 100 residents of The Views and the four hospice beds. It will also provide meals for the new Mountain View residents.

 

 

 

ALC patients temporarily moving to St. Joseph’s

ALC patients temporarily moving to St. Joseph’s

The former St. Joseph’s Hospital is being called back into action. Some patients in acute care beds at the Comox Valley Hospital, who are waiting for residential care beds, will move to St. Joseph’s to alleviate the new facility’s chronic overcapacity

 

Eleven months after the new Comox Valley Hospital opened, the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) will finally unburden its staff from chronic overcapacity.

And it will give Comox Valley family caregivers some extra opportunity for relief with three additional respite care beds.

VIHA has contracted with St. Joseph’s to open 21 residential care beds in the former acute care hospital site at the top of Comox hill. The beds will be available in September.

And the health authority said they will also convert space on the new hospital’s fourth floor, which was reserved for expansion, into a 17-bed residential care unit for mostly elderly patients who need an alternate level of care.

Norm Peters, Executive Director, Surgery, End of Life Care & Residential Care at Island Health told Decafnation that “By moving (ALC patients) to St. Joseph’s, it opens up acute care beds at the hospital for people who require acute care.”

Almost every day since the new hospital opened with 129 acute care beds, it has been dramatically overcapacity. The number of admitted patients has soared to 178 on occasion, nearly 50 percent higher than planned.

That has stressed workers at the hospital, which was budgeted for 129 patients.

FURTHER READING: Record 178 patients at CVH; Flawed planning at root of hospital’s problems

Most of the overcapacity has been due to patients in more expensive acute care beds who are waiting to transition to long-term care facilities. But the Comox Valley has had a dearth of long-term care beds for many years, so these patients have had no option but to stay in the hospital.

In fact, those in charge of designing the new hospital never planned for any ALC patients (alternate level of care). Hospital planners naively assumed that VIHA would have provided enough beds at residential care facilities such as The Views at St. Joseph’s, Glacier View Lodge or the Seniors Village.

The new 21 beds at St. Joseph’s are temporary until VIHA opens a proposed 151 new complex care beds sometime in 2020, if they can be built that fast. Contracts for those beds, spread among multiple providers, won’t be awarded until at least Aug. 31.

Michael Aikins, administrative officer for The Views at St. Joseph’s, told Decafnation that the 21 residential care beds and the three respite beds will be located on the third floor of the former acute care hospital.

While the new beds are detached from other Views patients, they will be cared for by Views staff who will follow St. Joseph’s policies.

Aikins said The Views was in the process of hiring care aides, LPN’s, housekeepers, dietary aides and will add hours in other support areas such as maintenance, payroll. They will reinforce their casual workers in all areas.

There will be crossover opportunities to maximize The Views’ resources, but the temporary ALC unit will have dedicated staff to provide day-to-day care to the residents.

St. Joseph’s will make some modest improvements to the hospital rooms that have sat vacant for nearly a year with some fresh paint, new furnishings and improved wayfinding.

St. Joseph’s Board of Directors Chair Chris Kelsey said the board is happy to help and provide support.

FURTHER READING: Island Health press release