A pair of ponies  /  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: No 29th Street bridge? Check. Only 60 ‘new’ beds? Check

Jan 17, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

The City of Courtenay can cross another potential third-bridge location off its list. Golden Life Management company will build its 120-bed seniors residential home on a vacant lot at 29th Street and Cliffe Avenue, on the estuary side of the road.

During this summer’s 21st Street bridge proposal — which turned out to be a bogus plan by an ignorant consultant because it cut a swath through the Courtenay Airpark and a critical appendage off the Kus-kus-sum restoration — some people suggested 29th Street made a better bridge site. It could funnel Comox traffic straight off the Inland Highway connector.

Believe it: no bridge will cross the K’omoks Estuary in our lifetime. But now, with a seniors facility in the way, you can bet your life it won’t happen on 29th Street.

  Health Minister Adrian Dix might have expected his announcement this week of 151 long-term care beds to send the Comox Valley into a jubilant frenzy. We’ll welcome any amount of new beds, even though we’re sore that it took so long.

But some people aren’t dancing in the streets.

Core NDP supporters wanted the beds, or a majority of them, to be publicly operated, not put into the hands of a private operator. The family-owned Golden Life Management company promises a well-run, quality home for seniors — what else would they say? — and we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

But Comox Valley skeptics can be forgiven because we’ve had a bad experience with private operators. Retirement Concepts made similar promises before they sold to a Chinese company, which has since been taken over by the Chinese government. Workers have struck. Horror stories rumored. Quality has suffered.

But the big elephants in this room are whether we really got 151 “new” beds, and whether they solve the Comox Valley’s problem.

Let’s do the math: 21 of the 151 beds are already in use at the old acute care hospital — so these aren’t new. We’re down to 130 “new” beds.

There are also about 70 admitted patients parked in acute care beds at the Comox Valley Hospital who really need long-term care beds. So these beds are already spoken for. Does that mean the province is adding only 60 “new” beds?

There are at least that many people (60) receiving care at home from family members, while they wait for long-term beds to open up. By the time these new facilities open their doors in 2020 (we hope), the Valley’s population growth and aging baby boomers will have added scores of people to that wait list. And we predict this announcement will not completely solve our hospital’s overcapacity problem.

Still, it is something. And the BC Government has similar needs all over the province. They also have a budget to balance.

 The two best parts of the health minister’s announcement were: 1) four new respite beds at the new Providence facility. Caregivers deserve a break; and, 2) Island Health committed to a redevelopment of The Views at St. Joseph’s, including a dementia village concept.

Everything St. Joe’s has planned, since they learned several years ago that the acute care hospital would move, will go into the redevelopment of the Comox site. And there’s little doubt they could have pulled this off without Providence. In fact, we suspect the Health Ministry was waiting for the new Providence Residential Community Care Society to form and acquire St. Joe’s before awarding the long-term care bed contracts.

What the dickens is former CVRD director Rod Nichol up to?

Arzeena Hamir defeated Nichol for the Area B seat in the fall election. Now, Nichol, who chaired a select committee investigating potential waste-to-energy technologies, is working behind the scenes to push his pet project forward. That’s fair enough. He’s passionate about the cause and fully invested in it.

But his actions are raising more questions than providing answers.

For instance, in a letter to Decafnation (an exact copy of a comment he posted on our website), Nichol says our story “needs clarification.” But he doesn’t clarify anything. Nothing needed clarification. What he’s really doing is lobbying for a company called Sustane Technologies.

Hamir and other directors have questioned the work of Nichol’s advisory committee. They ask whether Sustane’s technology will actually reduce the north Island’s carbon footprint, as claimed, and want the committee’s terms of reference updated to examine that aspect more closely.

That seems reasonable, especially because Sustane doesn’t have a proven track record yet. It’s first Canadian operation is just coming online.

Now that’s he’s no longer an elected official, Nichol can promote whatever business he wants. But by doing so, is Nichol attempting to preserve the legacy of a committee he chaired? Or is he out-and-out lobbying for Sustane? This line seems blurred. Especially because Nichol is only a couple of months out of office. And, in Nichol’s letter to Decafnation, he copied in a Sustane corporate executive. Why would he do that?

And Hamir alleged at a recent solid waste management board meeting that a director met privately with Sustane. She did not name names, and we’re not suggesting it was Nichol. It could have been any of the committee’s directors. Charlie Cornfield, of Campbell River, for example. We don’t know. But if someone did, in fact, meet privately with Sustane, they are ethically bound to declare it.

¶  Finally, congrats to Comox Council for getting started on an off-leash dog park. It’s obviously needed. And Courtenay should have one, too. We hope these off-leash parks also come with enforcement of keeping dogs leashed in other parks.



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