Nearly a month after Decafnation published the first of four articles that spotlighted problems at the new Comox Valley Hospital, the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has issued a press release in response.

The VIHA statement released on Feb. 2 says, in part:

“Recently, there have been public statements focused on the North Island Hospital Comox Valley campus. While we know there are inaccuracies in some of these statements, we also acknowledge there are truths.

“This is a normal part of a change of this magnitude and we want to assure our staff, physician partners, patients, volunteers and the communities that the hospital serves, that we are listening and working very hard to make necessary improvements.”

These sentences contain several troubling statements.


WHAT DO YOU SAY? — Decafnation invites health care workers and others to respond to the VIHA press release with a comment below or on the Decafnation Facebook page.


First, the VIHA release repeats a claim by CVH Medical Director Dr. Jeff Beselt made to a reporter for 98.9 The GOAT that the first Decafnation article published on Jan. 15 wasn’t entirely accurate.

Decafnation immediately made repeated requests for Beselt to specify those inaccuracies. Those requests were ignored until this week.

But the errors Beselt points out have nothing to do with any of the serious issues raised in our four-part series.

Here are the three errors in the first article to which Beselt says he was referring:

1 — The cost of the Comox Valley Hospital was $331.7 million, not $350 million. We rounded up the original estimate. We’ve also requested data on any cost overruns, which are not uncommon in construction projects.

2 — The hospital building is not ‘owned’ by Tandem Health. Beselt himself errs here. We did not report the building is “owned” by Tandem. We said the building is “leased” from Tandem. It is more correct to say the building is ‘managed’ by Tandem Health under a 30-year operating agreement. It’s interesting to note that VIHA pays Tandem Health a monthly fee for these management services. 

3 — Decafnation stated that St. Joseph’s General Hospital was overcapacity on the day it closed. Beselt says that St. Joe’s was not overcapacity on that day because patient numbers were reduced for purposes of the move to the new hospital.

He’s correct for the reason he states. But the point was that St. Joe’s had been overcapacity frequently for several years before the move — a result of having to place people in acute care beds that no longer need that level of care. Further, it was known on the day St. Joe’s closed, and during the construction of CVH, that the roughly 30-40 percent of patients needing an alternate level of care (ALC) would transfer over. 

It is Decafnation’s policy to correct errors of fact quickly, so each of the articles now make note of these three corrections and one other similar error in the third article of the series.

The more troubling statement in the VIHA release is that the problems Decafnation has reported are “… a normal part of change of this magnitude ….”

It’s true that some of the issues, including staff morale, relate to former St. Joseph’s staff members habituating to the VIHA culture, and our articles reported on that.

But that doesn’t account for all of the specific problems we have identified, such as not planning for overcapacity, not recognizing that the spacious floor plan would require higher staffing levels, forgetting to include whole departments and later squeezing other departments to fit them in and not providing sufficient residential bed capacity and adequate access to other services for unpaid caregivers in the Comox Valley.

Not to mention failed heliport planning at both Comox Valley and Campbell River sites.

We could go on, but these hardly seem like “normal” parts of a well-considered planning processes. Especially when our sources say they repeatedly raised these and other specific concerns in public and employee meetings during the planning stage.

Did VIHA management simply not listen carefully to its front-line workers during the planning process? VIHA says it did, but there’s a large contingent of north Island hospital employees who strongly disagree.

The VIHA release also says it is “working hard to make necessary improvements.” We reported that in our series, too, and hope to someday see the results of that effort.

But neither Beselt or other VIHA executives would say what specific actions they have taken or plan to take. Decafnation would love to report on those measures and how they have mitigated some of the employees’ uneasiness and mistrust.

The fact is, Decafnation accumulated a multitude of information about which the taxpaying public should be concerned. We only published the portion of this information that we could independently verify and collaborate.

Following publication of the series, readers have expressed further concerns and also related patient experiences relevant to the issues raised in our articles, which we also have not published.

Starting today, however, Decafnation is publishing a selection of those observations. The point is to illustrate the breadth and variety of concerns about the building, changed procedures and how VIHA has managed the transition from St. Joseph’s.

We encourage readers to continue sharing their comments on this website or on our Facebook page.

We also encourage VIHA to not gloss over these concerns or dismiss them in public statements by trying to discredit sincere reporting. We hope instead that VIHA undertakes corrective measures that specifically address overcapacity, understaffing, low morale, health care worker safety, excessive overtime and other issues.

North Island communities deserve a great hospital. Decafnation will support every real effort to achieve that goal.

Note: This is just one sample of a voluntarily submitted comment from a single reader that was not posted to our website or Facebook page. You can view publicly made comments on those sites HERE and on the articles themselves, which are posted HERE. Decafnation has not verified this particular reader’s information.

“During an appointment for a procedure at the CV hospital in mid December, I noticed many things about the “flow” for the patient is pretty makeshift at that new hospital. The way sound carries around the admitting desk is about the worst design possible.  Sound travels very well among the chairs in the waiting area which are located across the hall from admitting. It also travels well from one admitting kiosk to the next. So patients hear way too much about each others’ admitting process. On the contrary, voices don’t carry well from the admitting kiosks across the hallway to the patient waiting area, and there is no PA system, so you can’t hear your number being called.

“As a result of the sound design, I was able to overhear a conversation between an admitting clerk and another person about the staffing situation that day. They were quite far away from the desk and trying to be discreet, but I still heard it due to the acoustics.

“Apparently the centralized staffing process isn’t working well. They started the day with one person short, but nobody told them. This caused them to fear that their coworker was missing or maybe had an accident or something.

“Signage isn’t very good. It is nearly impossible to find one’s own way from admitting to “minor day procedures” (which isn’t a good name for a place that seems to only do endoscopy).  Most of the patients arriving on the same day as my procedure had mistakenly gone to the second floor surgical unit, gotten lost, and then finally were guided by an employee to the “minor day procedures” waiting room.

“Upon arriving at the department, I noticed that area where the receptionist would normally sit was unlit and not staffed. I found out by overhearing another conversation later that the department was short a unit clerk, and running behind schedule due to misdirected patients and no unit clerk to round them up. Instead of a receptionist, there was a whiteboard on an easel where someone has crossed out the word “minor”(day procedures) and changed it to “important!”. Whoever wrote that knows how the patient feels…anytime you are going under anaesthetic, it feels pretty “important” to the patient and the family. The white board stated that the patients should take a seat and someone would come out to greet them.

“When my name was called, I was guided into the department, given a gown and a pillowcase, and directed to a change room. After putting all my personal belongings into the pillowcase, I was directed to place the pillowcase on a small metal cart, alongside many other blue pillowcases that contained other patient belongings. I thought it was weird that there were no lockers, because I had a similar procedure at St. Joe’s a few years ago and I was given a locker and a key. Patients must leave their full pillowcases in the hallway inside the department during their procedures. I then noticed a handwritten sign on a wall that read “LOCKERS!”.

“I was then guided to an area where one of the stretchers is located. The stretcher is still located in the curtained-area, and there are five chairs all crowded alongside the stretcher in a curtained area and you are pretty much knee-to-knee with all the other male and female patients who are also gowned. This encourages a great deal of unsolicited patient “sharing” about their individual medical conditions.

“I later heard from a friend who works at CVH that the original plan was to send gowned patients back to the main “minor procedure” waiting room to wait alongside all the patients and family members who are in street clothes. On the day of my procedure, there would not have been enough chairs there for all of us, and also I would not feel comfortable standing there in a gown among so many clothed strangers. So at that point, I understood why we were all ushered to a makeshift waiting area inside the department.

“After my procedure was finished, I was directed to the pile of pillowcases to retrieve my belongings and sent to a patient bathroom to change back into my clothes.

“At every interaction, the staff and my doctor treated me in a very caring professional way. The procedure went very well and I felt the staff all did an excellent job of mitigating the shortcomings of the staffing situation and the limitations of their physical surroundings. But after over $600 million dollars (Editor’s note: rough estimate for both hospitals) was spent on the project, the patients, staff, and doctors all deserve better.”



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