For the second time in two months, health officials have taken control of a Retirement Concepts seniors home on Vancouver Island amid concerns about chronic staffing shortages and neglect of residents.
Island Health announced Wednesday that the same administrator appointed to run the Comox Valley Seniors Village in Courtenay on Sept. 30 has taken charge of the Nanaimo Seniors Village.
The administrator, Susan Abermann, will oversee day-to-day operations at both facilities with the help of two assistant managers. She has 25 years of experience in seniors care and served previously as Island Health’s lead for residential care services.
Mark Blandford, executive director of primary care and seniors health, said the “extraordinary” move stems from ongoing concerns about Retirement Concepts’ inability to staff its facilities, provide basic care and fix problems in a timely way.
“Essentially our feeling was, and the medical health officer obviously agrees, that the operator wasn’t achieving compliance with their licence or delivering safe care,” Blandford said.
Island Health made the decision despite sending its own staff to run a 32-bed unit at the Nanaimo Seniors Village last month. The health authority funds 134 of the 150 beds at the privately owned long-term care facility.
“It’s a leadership issue, it’s a staff recruitment and retention issue and then it’s a staff education and support issue,” Blandford said. “I will say that this operator’s worked hard to recruit new staff, but they need on-site training and they need orientation and that’s been slow to be given.”
Retirement Concepts was purchased by Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group in 2017. The physical properties are owned by Cedar Tree Investment Canada, an Anbang subsidiary. An affiliated B.C. company, Pacific Reach Seniors Housing Management, operating as West Coast Seniors Housing Management, is responsible for the delivery of care and services.
“For the last several weeks, West Coast Seniors Housing Management and Nanaimo Seniors Village have been working with Vancouver Island Health to try and address compliance issues that are largely related to staffing challenges,” Jennie Deneka, a partner at West Coast Seniors Housing Management, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, our collective efforts have not produced the results required to ensure full compliance of licensing.”
Deneka said West Coast will work with the administrator, licensing, the health authority and government to tackle ongoing challenges with recruitment and staffing.
Island Health’s board of directors took action in Nanaimo at the recommendation of Dr. Paul Hasselback, the Central Island’s medical health officer.
He noted in a report to the board that Nanaimo Seniors Village had a low hazard rating in June, but elicited five complaints about insufficient staffing through July and August. “Since the beginning of September, 16 additional complaints have been received which are under investigation,” his report says.
Hasselback cited ongoing and developing concerns about medication delays, inadequate treatment of wounds and poor care that might have led to hospital stays.
“The Island Health nursing staff providing support at the site have identified concerns regarding the documentation, the care and the apparent worsening of wounds,” Hasselback wrote.
The Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents staff in Nanaimo, welcomed the latest developments.
“We have been calling for the appointment of an administrator at Nanaimo Seniors Village since September to address the really significant and unprecedented crisis that began to emerge in that facility over the summer,” Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager, said in an interview. “It certainly is welcome, but I think there is no question that there is considerable work to stabilize the staffing at that facility over the longer term.”
The union contends that the staffing shortage stems in part from the low wages paid to care aides and licensed practical nurses at private facilities on the mid-Island.
“Until we get back to a situation where we have a common standard across all long-term care facilities, and private operators are no longer permitted to extract profit from the system by driving wages and working conditions down for the staff, until we eliminate that perverse incentive in the system, we’re going to continue to have these kinds of problems,” Whiteside said.
Island Health also has its own people staffing a 38-bed unit at Retirement Concepts’ Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria, but there are no immediate plans to install an administrator at that facility.
“It’s a separate investigation,” Blandford said. “It’s ongoing. There are clearly similar issues, but at this point in time we’re working hard with the operator to avoid it.”
Blandford said Abermann has already made progress at the Comox Valley Seniors Village.
“I would say there’s been improvement there,” he said. “Staff are certainly happier. I mean, you can’t create miracles overnight, but the administrator there has put into place some procedures and practices which are starting to improve care. I think the families are happier.”