Island Health to stop running seniors homes if conditions are met

If two private seniors homes in Nanaimo and Comox Valley meet final conditions by month’s end, Island Health says it will be able to remove its emergency management of the facilities.

Mark Blandford, executive director of primary care and seniors health, said significant changes at the leadership and site levels are helping to bring the two facilities into compliance with their licences.

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The decision about whether to withdraw emergency management lies with the medical health officers in the region as well as licensing officials. Island Health’s board of directors will meet on the matter before the end of the month.

Last year, Island Health took over management of three private long-term care facilities on Vancouver Island, appointing Susan Abermann as administrator. Complaints about the Retirement Concepts facilities included staffing shortages and concerns about neglect of residents. Medical health officers in the regions and licensing inspectors recommended the administrator.

Abermann was placed at the helm of the 150-bed Nanaimo Seniors Village — 134 beds are funded by the province — on Nov. 27, extended in May to the end of this month.

Medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback noted significant progress at Nanaimo Seniors Village in staffing levels, care planning and wound care, but said the oversight of the administrator should remain to ensure the work continues.

Island Health also took over the 136-bed Comox Valley Seniors Village in Courtenay — 120 beds are publicly funded — on Sept. 30, extended in March to July 31.

A March 13 complaint of patient neglect was followed up by a licensing officer, who observed that a registered care aide did not properly complete care, which was rushed.

As well, a licensing inspection report dated June 25 noted that of 11 case files examined related to people in hospice, four had not been weighed in April or May, despite a requirement to do so at least monthly.

Delores Broten’s husband, Don Malcolm, 86, is a resident at Comox Valley Seniors Village. She said she can’t comment on how much things have improved because of restrictions on visits due to the pandemic. Broten is head of Crying Out Loud, a volunteer group of about 20 that successfully advocated last year to have the public administrator appointed.

Her group is working on a proposal for an ambassador or volunteer visitor to go inside the facility to check things out.

“Perhaps it is sufficient to say that I am uneasy enough that I have applied to have my partner moved to another facility,” said Broten. “Should have carried through with it years ago.”

North Island medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns reported the administrator has been able to increase staffing to meet operational requirements and new scheduling hours are in effect. However, she decided continued oversight of scheduling and the implementation of staffing was needed to ensure stability.

The health authority also took over the 217-bed Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria, where the province funds 185 beds, on Dec. 12, which was extended in June for four months.

Medical health officer Dr. Murray Fyfe’s report said progress had been made, citing the creation of monthly Family Council meetings, staff training, new staff positions including a social worker, music therapist and nursing clerk, and the purchase of needed supplies. However, he also said administrative oversight was needed to ensure further progress and improve staffing levels, orientation, education and training of staff, and support with care planning.

The care homes are run by Pacific Reach Seniors Housing Management, operating as West Coast Seniors Housing Management. That company is part of the Retirement Concepts group of companies.

James Liebenberg, who became president of West Coast Seniors Housing Management about six weeks ago, said “a number of key people” have been hired in the operational and clinical side of the business, and more staff are being recruited.

“As an organization, and this comes right from the top of the organization, we have made a 180-degree change in direction,” Liebenberg said.

“We are getting back to our roots.”

Liebenberg, who oversees about 24 facilities, said he was not able to answer for the history of the seniors homes, but the company is “re-establishing a culture of quality care and service.”

The facility is working closely with the health authority, he said. “We will do whatever is needed during this process and our commitment is to continue doing the work.”

Liebenberg said a new leader is coming in to oversee the Selkirk facility “and we have a lot of confidence in moving forward.”

In February, the province took over management of a fourth Retirement Concepts seniors facility, in Summerland.

Seniors homes in Canada have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19. At its peak, dozens of long-term care homes have had COVID-19 outbreaks; none have been on Vancouver Island. The majority of COVID-19 deaths have been at long-term-care homes.

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