George Le Masurier photo
Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover
After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health.
Now, two months later, and with no evidence of corrective action by the Chinese corporation that owns the facility, the same Comox Valley family members have asked Island Health to assume its full operational responsibility.
“It is our strong belief that the prolonged, ongoing challenges to bring this facility within compliance are indicative of a larger endemic problem … regarding this facility,” the family members said in a May 20 letter to Tim Orr, the director of residential services for Island Health.
The family members say there have been seven new contraventions of compliance to Residential Care Regulations between March 7 and May 3, all of which occurred since an investigation by Island Health licensing agents in March that resulted in a ‘high risk’ rating for the facility.
That review was triggered by a March 13 letter to Orr from the family members alleging that Seniors Village mishandled containment of the virus and that it may have been caused by food handling and a failure to ensure staff had required immunizations.
And there are currently 12 current contraventions, according to the Island Health Licensing Officer’s May 3 report. And there have been 22 incidents of regulatory non-compliance recorded since 2018.
The family members believe the most serious regulatory non-compliance occurred during the norovirus outbreak, while the top senior management positions remained vacant. A failure to clean the facility violated health and safety regulations, which was compounded by allegedly falsifying records to show the cleaning had been done.
The Comox Valley Seniors Village opened in 2009 by the Canadian company Retirement Concepts, but the problems began to surface in 2017 after it was sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through its Canadian holding company, Cedar Tree, including seven on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, AB and QC.
Cedar Tree, in turn, contracts out management of Comox Valley Seniors Village, and other Anbang holdings, to a management company called Pacific Reach, owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts.
What’s gone wrong
Problems identified or alleged by family members include unauthorized restraint, falsified records, building filth left uncleaned, incorrect feeding and failing to meet the contracted number of hours of care per resident among their complaints.
The family members believe that Seniors Village receives full payment from Island Health based on 3.11 hours of care per resident, but actually provides only 2.63 hours.
Island Health told Decafnation that “licensees are held accountable to meet all contractual obligations, including resident care hours.” And that Seniors Village has developed a corrective action plan, which Island Health “is monitoring weekly, including the licensee’s compliance to the Act and the Residential Care Regulations.”
Adequate staffing has been an consistent problem at the Seniors Village. The facility operated for six months without any senior management, neither a general manager or a director of care.
The facility has a difficult time keeping staff partly because it pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other Valley facilities, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph. Seniors Village staff went on strike last fall for better working conditions and compensations.
But there are other problems that have caused many workers to quit.
Recently, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority.
One concept in the shift reorganization, which the company has since reconsidered, would have required workers to rotate among the various wards every five weeks. But that was unacceptable to family members of residents in the dementia ward, where consistency and specialized training is necessary.
Deadly norovirus outbreak
Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 25, the norovirus spread rampantly throughout the facility. The family members believe the outbreak lasted longer than necessary because Seniors Village personnel — without a manager, dietician or care director — did not follow Island Health’s rigorous cleaning procedure.
“Past contraventions show the facility has a history of not having policies and procedures in place and the properly trained staff to executive them,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.
Two residents of the dementia wing died from pneumonia after noro infection and another died after refusing food after contracting the virus. Residents with “mobile dementia” often touch floors because they see things there.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, people become infected with norovirus through direct contact with infected people, touching surfaces contaminated with norovirus or by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated, usually by food handlers who have the virus and don’t wash their hands properly.
“Further evidence supporting our concerns that the facility did not follow the required cleaning procedure is that we have determined that the only carpet cleaning during the 29-day outbreak was not steam cleaning as required, but vacuuming, which is specifically contraindicated in Island Health’s procedure,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.
The family of one dementia resident who died during the outbreak was permitted access to collect his personal belongings unaware that the required cleaning protocol had not been followed.
“It is unconscionable to us that Island Health would not have immediately stepped into direct this facility’s handling of the outbreak and provide additional resources given the known issues with this facility,” the family members wrote on March 13.
The family members believe that an Island Health run facility would have done a post-incident investigation to identify the root causes of the norovirus outbreak and recommendations to prevent another occurence.
“Why would it not be a requirement for this facility, given its serious breach of a critical public health protocol?” the family members asked Orr in their most recent May 20 letter.
Can Island Health take over?
Island Health has the authority to take operational control of a facility through the Community Care and Assisted Living Act if they believe has endangered public health.
Island Health says they have appointed an administrator at facilities in the past. They have done so twice in the past 15 years at two separate facilities.
“We take the concerns and complaints from residents and families seriously,” an Island Health spokesperson told Decafnation. “There are a number of regulatory mechanisms to direct corrective action on the part of the operators to ensure the safety of residents.”
The family members think the situation at Seniors Village qualifies.
“Severe and irrevocable consequences are both appropriate and needed given this service provider’s continued critical failures to meet the terms of its contract and the regulatory standards,” they wrote on May 20.
The family members told Orr they have supported Island Health’s need to follow a remedial process, and think it’s now “time to take decisive action.”
“If Island Health is of the view that Comox Valley Seniors Village has not yet reached this point, it begs one of two questions: How much longer? Or How much worse does it need to be?”
Family members of Comox Valley Seniors Village residents or former residents who signed both letters referred to in this article are Delores Broten, Bev Foster, Greta Judd, Sharon Jackson and Doug Malcolm.
This article has been updated to remove a sentence saying Island Health had not responded. Island Health’s responses were included in the original article.
WHAT IS THE NOROVIRUS AND HOW DO YOU GET IT?
Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. People of all ages can get infected and sick with norovirus.
Norovirus is sometimes called the stomach flu or stomach bug. However, norovirus illness is not related to the flu which is caused by influenza virus.
People with norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles. And only a few virus particles can make other people sick.
You can get norovirus from:
–Having direct contact with an infected person
–Consuming contaminated food or water
–Touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth
The most commonly reported setting for norovirus outbreaks … is healthcare facilities, including long-term care facilities and hospitals. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported … occur in long-term care facilities.
The virus can be introduced into healthcare facilities by infected patients, staff, visitors, or contaminated foods. Outbreaks in these settings can sometimes last months. Norovirus illnesses can be more severe, occasionally even deadly, in patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities compared with healthy people.
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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My name is George Dukes 250 616–4876 I have been a resident at CVSV Since July 20 2018 , I am unable to walk due to a broken Hip … I am ver6 sound in my mental capacities. I have made several complaints regarding matters mentioned by other residents including care aids, unacceptable foods and management. I have not had one matter addresed by any person … period. My incredable wife visits me EVERY DAY and provides me with good food. Do not hesitate to call me or email me on any matter of concern.
I work at Selkirk place another owned and operated retirement concepts anbang owned and it’s bad, really bad every
thing in your article is happening here, and much worse no one shows up to work some days, sometime’s we’ll have 2 LPN’s for 7 entire floors that’s it , floors with 0 care staff
YOU ARE TOTALLY CORRECT LORNA … GEORGE DUKES … resident
I think it’s about time that Island health took over management of this facility. This is not the first time advocates for family members lodged here have asked for help. Inquiries don’t help because any progress made as a result is allowed to lapse and the condition of care returns to being substandard. How can we call ourselves a progressive society if we allow facilities such as Comox Valley Seniors Village to treat their vulnerable residents as shabbily as they do?
Time to step up to the plate, Island Health! Time to get involved, NDP!
Here we go again. Canada is for sale folks and ready to be raped and pillaged. What do we expect when these institutions are up for sale. It is about money….when you buy it, sell it and run it. Cut costs, reduce your staff, milk it for all it’s worth, get subsidized by the government of the day and then dump it when it is a mess. When my father was hospitalized for Dementia his care was awesome, that was five years ago. Good people with fair wages do good work. Hire for the least means you don’t get the best. At what point will more tax dollars go to subsidize these problems as they arise. Outside Investors contribute to political parties or candidates…..it’s all politics but your money.
This will all only get worse as more and more people of my generation require the kind of care the Seniors Village provides. There aren’t nearly enough beds for all the people who are going to need them. Like global warming, we’ve known this tidal wave of aging baby boomers was coming, yet our governments and social planners have been nowhere to be found. Profit above all else has become the mantra in all areas of the economy.
There is definitely a problem with the Noro Virus control at the CVSV. Last year while I was pregnant I contracted it 3 times from visiting my Dad in there. Once so bad I ended up in the hospital. Seems every time the outbreak closure was too late. Different protocol needs to be implemented.
I agree that this situation has been poorly handled by IHA. My mother is in the Assisted Living side and the food and food service has room for much improvement, not to mention the inadequate hiring practices. However, leave the racist comments about the Chinese out of it please! That the company that owns the facility is Chinese has no relevance to the issues and should be avoided. The companies responsible should be referred to by name and held accountable. Minimum service for maximum profit – corporate uncaring at it’s worst.
Hi Ron — I fail to see how identifying the owner of the facility constitutes racism. It’s a simple fact. If the public, and our government, is going to hold the owners accountable for the quality of care they provide, it’s important to know who they are.
“Younger” seniors must become more activist. Be pro-active – not reactive. It’s our future at risk if we do not take action. Questions is: what’s the best strategy?
Island health needs to do better, paying for care hours that are not provided to residents ?, seems to me that a full independent investigation of this facility and island health actions needs to happen. Where is the seniors ombudsman in all this ?
.Dont think the Chinese care about Canadian vulnerable seniors, making a profit by paying staff less, yet taking our tax dollars.
Thanks for reporting this. Other news outlets need to take note and run with this story. It’s outrageous.
This is a disgraceful situation that should not be allowed to continue. I pray that Island Health will act soon to reverse this assault to our senior’s health and welfare.
Things have got to change! As a private care aid and companion I go into several facilities and the worst by far is a retirement concept facilities.
The staff are over worked and under paid. The place is filthy and on more than one occasion I am feeding residents that are not my clients.
This is how we treat our seniors! There should be no private facilities. Every facility should be “not for profit”and have certain standards that they have to meet. They should also have surprise inspections.
The way our government is letting corporations make a profit off of our oldest citizens that help build our country is shameful!