Island Health sends own staff to 2 seniors facilities, concerned about care standards

Island Health is sending in its own care aides and nurses to fully staff two units at Retirement Concepts’ long-term care facilities for seniors in Victoria and Nanaimo, Health Minister Adrian Dix confirmed Friday.

Dix said the health authority will take over two units, each with about 30 beds — one at Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria and the other at Nanaimo Seniors Village — and staff them around the clock. He said the move will allow Retirement Concepts to disperse its own workers to raise staffing levels elsewhere in the facilities and ensure a proper standard of care for seniors.

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Island Health will pay its staff and recoup the costs from Retirement Concepts, the Health Ministry said.

“We’re prepared to do this for up to 90 days,” Dix said in an interview. “These are obviously unusual and significant steps, but the most important question in both facilities is ensuring the standard of care.”

The move comes less than two weeks after Island Health took control of Retirement Concepts’ Comox Valley Seniors Village in Courtenay amid multiple allegations of neglect, abuse, disease outbreaks and staffing shortages.

Island Health confirmed at the time that it also had concerns about staffing shortages in Nanaimo and Victoria, and had already deployed care aides and nurses to the Nanaimo Seniors Village.

The move to take over entire units at the Victoria and Nanaimo facilities will take place in the coming days with the co-operation of the Hospital Employees’ Union and B.C. Nurses’ Union, the ministry said.

“I think clearly they’re having issues at both places, so we felt it absolutely necessary to stabilize care and to intervene in this way,” Dix said.

“We’ve obviously been — both through the licensing program and through the public-health program — on site regularly, and clearly we need to support care delivery and I think people on site will understand that.”

Dix said he hopes this “unusual” step will allow the company to develop long-term staffing solutions for its facilities.

“It’s not, of course, what we want to do, but it’s what we have to do, and I think everyone living there and their families would agree with that.”

Dix noted that going in and trying to staff 68 beds at two facilities requires significant effort. “So Island Health and the [Hospital Employees’ Union] and Retirement Concepts are doing a good job of working that through.”

In a interview prior to Dix’s announcement, Jennifer Whiteside, the HEU’s secretary-business manager, said the union understood that Island Health was planning to send its staff into the Selkirk Seniors Village as was done in Nanaimo.

“It is, I have to say, unprecedented that the health authority is having to send in its own staff to supplement staffing at its contracted operators,” she said. “I’ve never heard of that situation.”

Whiteside called last week for Island Health to appoint an administrator in Nanaimo, saying the situation at the facility was “beyond a crisis.”

The union blames the low wages paid by Retirement Concepts for the fact its facilities are having difficulty recruiting and retaining workers.

“There’s no question there is a system-wide shortage of care aides,” she said. “But there is no question that there is a particular crisis with Retirement Concepts and a particular crisis in the central Island that is now heading down south.”

Nobody from Retirement Concepts was immediately available for comment late Friday.

The company was purchased by Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group in 2017. The actual properties are owned by Cedar Tree Investment Canada, an Anbang subsidiary, while Pacific Reach Senior Housing Management manages day-to-day operations at the facilities.

Jennie Deneka of Pacific Reach said in a statement last week that staffing difficulties at its facilities stem from recruiting challenges.

“The entire seniors-care sector is experiencing an industry-wide labour shortage across the province and Nanaimo Seniors Village is no different,” she said.

“This has been well documented by the B.C. Care Providers Association [which] is running a provincewide campaign to try to recruit workers into the sector.”

Deneka said the facilities have been working with the community, Island Health and others to deal with the staffing issues.

“The health, safety and care of our residents remains our number one priority,” she said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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