Tell us your story! New health care advocacy group asks public for help

Tell us your story! New health care advocacy group asks public for help

BC Government illustration

By Guest Writer

If you have personal experience with health care, including home care, residential care, if you are waiting for residential care, or need respite care, Seniors Voices Comox Valley would like to hear your story.

The group is fairly new but has been working privately for a few years. It formed out of a frustration with the shortage of available residential care in the Valley and then an interest in the numbers behind the hospital running at over-capacity.

Seniors Voices Comox Valley became increasingly concerned about the state of seniors’ health services for the Valley and for the province of British Columbia. The group says on their website, “we have decided to lend our not-yet-retired talents and experience to creating a voice for seniors. A voice especially intended for those of us who are least able to advocate for themselves.”

Delores Broten, one of the group’s founders has been trying for year to determine what the real need for residential is in the Valley.

“My husband was very ill, paranoid, and delusional and I just couldn’t take care of him anymore, but there was no relief in sight.,” she said. “I tried all kinds of avenues to get information, and heard so many different stories from the system. There was a list. There was no list. There were 70 people waiting for beds on the list that didn’t exist; there were 29 people waiting for beds. It would take months. We would have to go to Nanaimo. Meanwhile the front line workers said, ‘Hundreds, and in dangerous situations.’”

Eventually the group developed an analysis and statistically based projections that, with our growing and aging population, the Valley will need at least as many new long-term care beds again in 2021 when the newest facility, Golden Life, opens. Our new hospital will also remain sadly over-crowded.

But that’s a number crunching exercise, according to retired management consultant Peggy Stirrett, another founder of the group.

“To understand and convey the true story, we need to know the real impact on people for all seniors health care services. Only the people of the Valley can tell us that based on their own experience,” she said.

The group has recently launched a website so they can connect with the community. It displays useful resources for seniors and about seniors’ healthcare advocacy. It is a source of information and research for the group’s current advocacy support including the Comox Valley Seniors Village families project.

There is also an analysis on our care bed shortage and its impact on our hospital operating at over-capacity.

“We also need all kinds of other help,” Broten said. The group is looking for volunteers to look after the website, to maintain a database, to help with economic analysis, to make a Facebook page, to answer correspondence, to write letters, and eventually to help with public events.

But most of all, right now, they want to hear your story. Readers can start participating by filling out a confidential questionnaire.

For more information, people can contact the group at



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Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

A Village of Cumberland workshop addressed bullying in the Comox Valley, where it comes in many disguises, such as mayors or other elected officials, nonprofit board members, popular high school students or managers of businesses large and small

Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

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The Week: Strange attitude in Comox and perils of logging in watersheds

The Week: Strange attitude in Comox and perils of logging in watersheds

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

There’s a classic ironic saying — “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you” — that seems to describe the Town of Comox’s aloof and often confrontational attitude toward some of its constituency. It’s a peculiar mindset that the town has developed in recent times.

There’s no better example than the story of Ken McDonald and Golf Creek, which Decafnation first reported back in January when it was a simple Small Claims Court case. This week, we broke the news on Tuesday that a civil court judge granted an escalation of the law to the BC Supreme Court and multiplied the amount of damages tenfold.

Read the full story here, and the original story here

The town could have settled this matter for $25,000 or less three years ago just by taking a helpful and sympathetic approach to a resident’s problem. But instead of trying to assist this taxpayer, the town basically told him to buzz off, and then actually added to his financial burden by paying high-priced lawyers to fight him in court.

By the time this case is resolved, the town will have spent tens of thousands more of taxpayers’ money than if they had empathy for one of their own citizens and helped him out. And the bill will grow to hundreds of thousands more if the town loses the case.

The good news out of this example of the town’s pitiful proclivity for bullying people is that this citizen has the means to fight back. And because of McDonald’s refusal to just let it go, some of the town’s other sins have come to light: flushing toxic stormwater into the harbor, repeatedly ignoring warnings from more than one professional consultant, failing to monitor water quality in the creeks it abuses and more.

It’s hard to ignore the irony of Comox hosting a week-long seafood festival that starts today, knowing that the town bears a huge responsibility for the pollution of Comox Bay that has killed aquatic life and closes the area to shellfish harvesting.

Comox is also embroiled in another legal case that could also cost its taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, this one over the mishandling of the Mack Laing Trust and the fate of his heritage home, Shakesides. Instead of sitting down face-to-face and working out a solution, the town again has taken a confrontational approach, spending large amounts of money on lawyers to prevent Mack Laing’s supporters from having a voice in court.

There are good examples of local governments — in Cumberland and Courtenay — that when faced with citizen-based problems, municipal staff and elected officials actually try to resolve them in a win-win manner, rather than attempt to beat a citizen into submission. But Comox is apparently not that kind of town.



One of the frustrating aspects of the Town of Comox’s current legal battles is that elected officials refuse to talk about them. Mayor Russ Arnott is famous for hiding behind the words, “It’s before the courts, so I can’t talk about it.”

Literally, that’s not true. Elected officials have the freedom to talk about court cases, and defendants and prosecutors do it all the time. There is no law against this.

What Arnott really means is that he’s afraid to say something that could hurt the town’s legal case.

Municipal insurance companies have a big thumb on freedom of speech. So instead of transparency, we usually get silence based on a fear of liability.



Here’s some good news: the City of Courtenay has received $227,655 from the provincial BikeBC program to expand its cycling network on both sides of the river. The grant amounts to about half of the cost of projects on Fitzgerald Avenue and the Hobson Neighborhood.

Courtenay is really pushing toward a cycle-friendly community.

For its next step, we humbly suggest some kind of infrastructure — overpasses?, physically separated lanes? — that would allow students of Vanier and Isfeld secondary schools to cycle more safety from their homes on the west side of the river.



There is an excellent recent story in the online publication, The Narwhal, about how clearcut logging is driving a water crisis in some interior communities.

While the story focuses on the Okanagan region, there’s a similar story about logging in the Comox Lake Watershed, the drinking water source for most Comox Valley residents. And the results of this practice are similar.

Due to upstream logging, large quantities of sediment flow into Peachland Creek and eventually wash into Okanagan Lake. That has forced the town of Peachland to spend $24 million on a new water treatment plant to filter out the fine sediments, disinfect it with chlorine and ultraviolet light.

Sound familiar? That’s exactly what’s happening in the Comox Lake Watershed. Because the BC government allows logging in the watershed, sediment flows into all the little creeks and streams, and into the bigger rivers, such as the Cruikshank, causing turbidity.

The Comox Valley’s $110 million price tag for water treatment is more than four times higher than Peachland’s.

Why doesn’t the province only permit selective logging in watersheds? Why does the province prioritize logging over drinking water? And one wonders how much of the watershed the Comox Valley could have purchased for the cost of its water treatment plant.



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The Week: bizarre backstory; great news on sewage planning

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Day of Action planned to protect Island’s remaining old growth timber

By Guest Writer

Comox Valley citizens will stand others across the province this week to demand that the NDP stop provincial government-sponsored clear-cutting of the little remaining old growth forest left on the Island and South Coast.

The Day of Action will take place at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, June 6, on the Courtenay Courthouse lawn.

“We need to send a strong, clear message about catastrophic clear-cutting sanctioned by our Premier, John Horgan, our Minister of Forests, Doug Donaldson; and our local MLA, Ronna-Rae Leonard. They and the NDP government in Victoria are using BC Timber Sales, an
agency that supposedly represents the people of BC, to auction off significant tracts of old growth to the highest forest industry bidder,” said a spokesperson for the event.

The group wants the provincial government needs to stop telling British Columbians that BC has enough old growth left to sustainably harvest “when the truth is that less than 10 percent of productive, valley-bottom Island old growth remains.”

“The Day of Action will call out our government and its representatives who are relentlessly abandoning old growth forests to the interests of the logging industry,” she said.



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The Week: violations at Seniors Village, applause for Wendy Morin, solving homelessness

The Week: violations at Seniors Village, applause for Wendy Morin, solving homelessness

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This week, Decafnation reported a story that other Comox Valley media have been afraid to tackle: the endemic problems of regulatory non-compliance at Comox Valley Seniors Village, and the failure of Island Health to properly supervise this privately-owned long-term care facility.

Three residents died as an indirect result of a recent norovirus outbreak at Seniors Village and the facility, which was lacking supervisors in senior management positions at the time, did not follow required cleaning protocols during and after the event.

It took a small group of family members of Seniors Village residents to raise awareness of the outbreak, even to Island Health, and demand corrective action.

Privatization in the healthcare industry too often results in extreme cost-cutting to boost profits for shareholders and puts patients and residents at risk. There are some good private operators, although nonprofit organizations, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph are better suited to provide reliably quality care for loved ones.

Island Health needs to either take over Seniors Village, as the family members have requested, or step up its regulatory supervision of the facility.

They could start down that road by discontinuing the ludicrous practice of telling care facilities when they plan to do inspections. Inspections should be a surprise in order to see the facility in its everyday state without the advantage of several weeks to shine things up.


Did Russ Arnott not read the letter from KFN?

Many weeks ago, K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel wrote a letter to Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and council members expressing disappointment and concern that the town had made plans for replacing Mack Laing’s heritage house with a viewing platform without any prior consultation.

But the council has apparently ignored Chief Rempel’s concerns.

At a recent meeting, council members went ahead and approved revisions to the town’s plan for a viewing platform at the site, which is sacred First Nations ground, including middens, without including KFN in the redesign process.

Mayor Arnott was quoted as saying that presenting the finished redesign to KFN would be acting as “friendly neighbours and showing what we’re doing.”

Did he not read the letter? KFN wants prior consultation. They want to be involved in what the town hopes to do with Mack Laing’s house, called Shakesides. They do not want to be disrespected by being shown a redesign as a fait accompli.

KFN doesn’t want to be ‘friendly neighbors.’ They want to be active participants.

We anticipate that due to the mayor’s and council’s blind spot that another letter from KFN may be forthcoming.


Applause, please, for Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin

When the Youth Environmental Action (YEA) group made a presentation to the Comox Valley Regional District board about climate change and the need for urgent action, they received an unusual response from several directors.

We won’t name them, but these directors responded to the presentation by nitpicking the students’ PowerPoint slides. They made all kinds of suggestions about how to improve the readability and attractiveness of their slides, without so much as mentioning the content.

Thankfully, Courtenay Councillor and CVRD Director Wendy Morin took the microphone and admonished her colleagues. When have we ever critiqued a delegations PowerPoint slides before, Morin asked?

Her question got the board back on track to consider the students’ important message.


What it would take to solve homelessness?

Jill Severn, a friend of Decafnation and a pioneer in the US micro-housing solution for homelessness, recently wrote an article about the real causes of this problem. We’re reprinting excerpts of her article today, most of which applies equally to Canada.

As long as we are only talking about how to “respond” to homelessness, we are caught in a trap, because our society is churning out more homeless people faster than we can provide even the most elemental humanitarian responses to their suffering. Somehow, we need to tackle the challenge of how to prevent homelessness.

The big picture of prevention would start with a lot more housing and a lot less poverty.

That would require a reversal of decades of cuts to federal housing programs, and a national shift toward a dramatic reduction in income inequality, starting with a higher minimum wage and significant investments in free, effective job training and safety net programs.

And beyond that, there’s a long list of very specific unmet needs that target intergenerational poverty. For example, we need:

— universal early childhood education, starting with visiting nurses who help new parents bond with their babies and understand what babies and toddlers need to thrive;

— a child welfare system that is fully funded, with social workers who are well paid and not overworked to the point of burnout;

— public schools where all adult relationships with students are based on deep caring, cultural competence, respect, and high expectations;

— easy-to-access mental health services for people of every age, without stigma; addiction treatment on demand, and robust harm reduction programs for people who aren’t ready for treatment;

— criminal justice reforms that focus on rehabilitation, and expand rather than foreclose future employment opportunities;

— an end to racism, gender discrimination, and homophobia;

— a spiritual renewal based not on dogma, but on the simple, universal value of loving our neighbors – all of them – not just in theory but in practice.

Achieving these goals would result in a better educated, healthier and more prosperous society. And that’s the only kind of 21st century society in which homelessness will not be a chronic problem.

To create that society, we need to do more than sit at the bottom of a cliff talking about how to help the ever-growing number of our neighbors who have fallen off.

And we need to have realistic expectations about how much of this problem can be solved at the local, regional, or even state level. The scale of growing homelessness – which is the most extreme result of the hopelessness that poverty engenders – requires a national response from a functional, purposeful federal government that makes reducing poverty a top priority.

Our local measures do make a difference. Even if the city and its local partners cannot solve the problem of homelessness, we can (and already do) make an immense difference in the lives of those who are helped to find housing and reclaim their lives.

And even those who remain homeless benefit from the services, meals, and shelter provided by the city, and by our local network of nonprofits, faith communities, and big-hearted volunteers.





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Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

By George Le Masurier

Bullies abound in the Comox Valley, and they come in many disguises, such as mayors or other elected officials, nonprofit board members, popular high school students or managers of businesses large and small.

There are so many bullies these days, especially lurking around social media sites, that studies report more than 60 percent of high school students have been bullied and more than 70 percent of Canadians fear for their psychological safety at work.

At a workshop in Cumberland this week, organized by Village Mayor Leslie Baird, a mixed-gender panel of six Comox Valley residents shared their experiences of being bullied.

The panelists, who wished to remain anonymous, represented a wide spectrum of people in business, nonprofits and schools. And although their experiences revolved around a variety of circumstances — poverty, race, power differentials, gender — a number of common threads wove their stories together.

Bullying behavior feels like “the new normal,” according to the panelists.

One panel member suggested it was a “rough and tumble part of life” because humans have evolved as pack animals that prey on those who don’t belong, or fit in or who present a threat to conformity.

Another panelist said this pack mentality was evident in the cyber world where personal attacks and degrading comments are now so common they have become accepted.

“It’s got to the point where, if I don’t have to read a negative comment, it’s a good day,” she said. “There’s something wrong about that.”

While individual panelists said they had been bullied for a variety of different reasons — for example, racism and poverty — the underlying motivation was similar: People whose power comes from defending the pack’s standards are uncomfortable with those who don’t conform or fit in.

Simply wearing the wrong clothes in high school, perhaps because a student can’t afford the latest styles, can be seen as a threat that needs to be attacked.

The panelists also touched the issues of how to recognize when you or someone else is being bullied, and the moral dilemma of how to respond or intervene.
“I pick up signs when bullying is going on. I get uncomfortable. My hair starts to stand up,” said one panelist. “Bullying can sneak up on you.”

Another panelist said, “You know when you’re being bullied.”

And when a person is bullied, some people shut down. They can’t think fast enough to react in the moment. Only later do they think of all the things they should have said.

That’s why the panel agreed that bystanders to bullying play an important role in shutting down the bully and supporting the bully’s target.

Even showing non-verbal availability of support, such as making eye contact with the bully, or standing near the target, can diffuse the situation, panelists said.

One panelist, who has expertise in this area, offered an acronym for action in bullying situations: STAC.

“Steal the show by taking the limelight off the bully and creating a distraction. Tell someone that you have been bullied to affirm that it happened and to push out your self-doubt. Accompany the target by showing support. Coach and have Compassion for the bully by helping them see the consequences of their behavior, and how the other person felt,” she said.

Mayor Baird thanked the panel for sharing their personal stories, some of which brought tears, and the audience of about 40 for their interest. Baird organized a similar workshop last year.



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Cumberland workshop steals the spotlight from bullies

A Village of Cumberland workshop addressed bullying in the Comox Valley, where it comes in many disguises, such as mayors or other elected officials, nonprofit board members, popular high school students or managers of businesses large and small

CVRD assures Curtis Road residents, who seek BC intervention

CVRD assures Curtis Road residents, who seek BC intervention

File photo of lower Curtis Road

By George Le Masurier

Letters are flying between “fed up” Curtis Road residents and the Comox Valley Regional District over odour, drinking water wells and other issues emanating from the Brent Road sewage treatment plant.

The regional district’s Senior Manager of Water/Wastewater Services Kris LaRose has assured Curtis Road residents that construction of an equalization basin to prevent potential winter overflows from the wastewater treatment facility will not affect their shallow wells or local groundwater.

In a letter to the residents association, LaRose also said the equalization Basin (EQ) will be built into the ground, not above it, for seismic safety. And, because he only expects effluent in the EQ basin during the stormiest and wettest days of winter, LaRose added that covering the basin to eliminate odours was not financially warranted.

The Curtis Road Residents Association plans to meet later this week to review and possibly respond to LaRose’s reassuring letter. In the meantime, they have written letters of their own seeking provincial intervention.

Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents, said she is waiting to hear back from requests her group has made to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. They are seeking higher-level assurances that the EQ basin’s location will not affect their well water quality and quantity.

Meanwhile, Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission Chair David Frisch and CVRD staff will meet with the residents, and their Area B representative, Arzeena Hamir, next week for a less formal conversation about the issues.

The sewage commission sets policy for a sewerage system that serves residents of Courtenay and Comox, members of the K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox. But its treatment plant is located in Area B. Neither the Area B representative or K’omoks First Nations have a voting seat on the commission.


What is an EQ basin and why it’s necessary

During heavy rainfalls in the late fall and winter, stormwater seeps into the sewerage system and increases the volume of wastewater entering the plant by more than three times the average summer flow.

With population growth and increasingly extreme winter weather brought about from climate change, those winter flows threaten to overflow the plant’s current holding capacity. That could mean raw or nearly-raw sewage spilling into the Strait of Georgia, which would violate standards and regulations.

The EQ basin was originally planned for another site on the treatment plant property, further from Curtis Road, but engineers discovered conflicts with existing infrastructure and future expansion plans. LaRose says moving the location now would add “several million dollars” to the cost and delay the project for a year.

“Delay of the project to 2020 would result in another winter of increased potential of plant overflow …” LaRose wrote in his letter.


Why the residents are concerned

Curtis Road residents — about 80 people belong to the neighborhood association — have several concerns about the EQ basin and its location 70 meters from homeowners’ property lines.

The main concern is that any compromise of the basin’s membrane will result in a leak of raw sewage into local groundwater and residents’ drinking water wells.

In his letter, LaRose said there will be more than three meters between the bottom of the basin, including its under-drain and leak detection system, and the top level of groundwater. And he said the CVRD would take additional measures to mitigate potential leaks.

The regional district will engage an arborist to assess trees annually prior to the storm season and remove any trees that have a probability of falling on the basin and tearing the underlying membrane.

The district will also drill a groundwater monitoring well below the basin’s location on the Curtis Road side to test water quality and detect leaks. An under-drain system will be installed with sensors to collect any leakage, which will trigger an auto response to drain the basin if a leak is detected.

Residents have complained about noxious odours from the plant since it opened in the mid-1980s that are at times overwhelming. The new EQ basin will have an open surface area equal to the plant’s existing primary tanks, which were covered in a past attempt to reduce odours.

But LaRose said that due to the limited amount of time the basin will contain untreated sewage — he estimated fewer than 50 hours per year — that no cover for the basin is planned.

“The very significant expense of covering the EQ basin is not seen as warranted,” he said.


What residents are doing

The resident have written to the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health. They want provincial intervention in the sewage commission’s plan to build the EQ basin.

They noted that “prevailing winds and gales could easily cause tall trees (rooted in sand) to topple into the basin resulting in a compromised membrane.” And they noted the risk of an earthquake.

“The mental angst of worrying about whether our drinking water is fouled is an unreasonable interference in the use of our property,” they wrote.

The residents’ goal is to convince the sewage commission to relocate the EQ basin further away from their properties.



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Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

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Cumberland gets $5.7 million for sewage plant upgrade

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Long-term wastewater planning underway at CVRD

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