Island Health has taken over the 217-bed Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria — the third Retirement Concepts seniors home on Vancouver Island to fall under the health authority’s temporary control amid concerns about staffing shortages and neglect of residents.
The same administrator appointed to run the Comox Seniors Village in Courtenay on Sept. 30 and the Nanaimo Seniors Village on Nov. 27 will now oversee day-to-day operations at Selkirk.
Susan Abermann will run each of the facilities for at least six months with the help of assistant managers at all three sites.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the “extraordinary” move to take over Selkirk was made on the recommendation of South Island medical health officer Dr. Murray Fyfe. The health authority funds 185 of the 217 beds at the privately owned long-term care facility.
“We don’t want to intervene,” Dix told reporters at the B.C. legislature. “We don’t want to run these care facilities and we would like to bring them into compliance and ensure that we’re not running them or we’re not administrating them in the long term.
“But the medical health officer, following the law, said there was no choice and we acted. We’d prefer not to act. We’d prefer not to act in all three cases, but we were required to because of the circumstances and because the residents who live there needed us to intervene and we did.”
In a report on Selkirk Seniors Village to Island Health’s board, Fyfe highlighted concerns about staffing shortages, site cleanliness and neglect of residents’ basic needs, such as bathing, wound care, comfort and supervision. Similar concerns were raised at the facilities in Nanaimo and Courtenay.
Fyfe noted that a licensing investigation concluded that Retirement Concepts “consistently demonstrated that they are unwilling or unable to meet the minimum requirements set forth in legislation.”
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, West Coast Seniors Housing Management, is responsible for the delivery of care and services.
Dix told reporters Thursday that the government is “very concerned” about the ongoing problems at Retirement Concepts facilities on the Island.
“There’s a lot of focus on the issue of ownership, but this happened to Retirement Concepts prior to the change in ownership,” he said.
In 2007, Island Health appointed an administrator to run Retirement Concepts’ Beacon Hill Villa in Victoria.
“This is not just about the sale,” Dix said. “Over a number of years, I’d say a very significant number or percentage of the cases where administration has been used have been Retirement Concepts cases, and that’s a concern.”
Asked if there was a link between the company’s ownership and current problems at Retirement Concepts, Dix said: “I would say that that link isn’t proven. But what is shown is the need to take action about Retirement Concepts on Vancouver Island and that’s what we’ve done.
“We’re working with them, of course. We don’t want to be permanently running these facilities. The goal is to bring them back into compliance with the law in B.C. so that seniors are protected.”
Dix added that the “ownership of the company is irrelevant to the fact that they have an obligation to follow the rules here in British Columbia. There’s no exception to that.”
Jennie Deneka, chief operating officer of West Coast Seniors Housing Management, said the problems at Selkirk Seniors Village are largely related to “staffing challenges” and that the company has been working with Island Health to address compliance issues.
“Unfortunately, our collective efforts have not produced the results required to ensure full compliance of licensing,” she said in a statement.
“We recognize the appointment of an administrator at three sites is unprecedented. It speaks to the staffing crisis that is impacting our sector and the impact it was having on us as the largest care provider in the province. We acknowledge that wage parity is a factor on our ability to recruit and maintain staff, and we are working to close that gap.”
The Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents workers at both the Selkirk and Nanaimo facilities, contends that private facilities are having difficulty keeping and recruiting care aides because they often can earn far more working for the health authority.
A union briefing note says care aides at Nanaimo Seniors Village used to start at $18.19 an hour until Retirement Concepts boosted the wage by $2.50 in September. By comparison, the care aides sent by Island Health to help at the facility earn $24.83 an hour, the union said.
“It’s pretty clear that much more needs to be done to fix the long-term care system,” said Mike Old, union spokesperson. “I mean, all over the Island there’s a wide range of wages and working conditions and it’s fueling a really serious recruitment and retention problem
“I would say Retirement Concepts is at the cutting edge of this problem, but the problem is systemwide.”
The union argues the province needs to move to standard wages and working conditions across the sector. “If we get a level playing field, it means more stable working and caring conditions and that will help the situation,” Old said.
“But, you know, three sites going under administration in less than  weeks? It’s pretty clear the situation is very serious and it needs urgent attention.”
— With a file from Cindy E. Harnett