The Comox Valley Hospital | Decafnation file photo
Comox Valley Hospital loses another medical service: how the candidates respond
The Comox Valley Hospital no longer has any on-site pathologists. Dr. Chris Bellamy and Dr. Wayne Donn both resigned on June 21, exasperated by Island Health’s refusal to adequately staff its North Island medical laboratories. Their last day was Aug. 21.
Their absence for the past two months has caused chaos at the CVH laboratory and lengthened the time that patients wait to receive test results. This has provoked some emotional patients to turn up at the lab, desperate for their biopsy results.
While this is a new reality at the Comox Valley Hospital, the reduction in on-site pathology services at the Campbell River Hospital has impacted the North Island for several years. It’s part of Island Health’s plan to centralize some medical services in Victoria.
But despite pleas for help from family doctors and other health care workers, individuals and groups such as the Citizens for Quality Health Care and the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board and other North Island municipal governments, neither Island Health or the NDP provincial government have responded with any relief.
And while the North Island’s concerns have focused on patient care, there are also allegations of conflict of interest within Island Health and the claim that taxpayers are no longer receiving the services they were promised and continue to pay for.
Decafnation asked each of the provincial candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding to address this issue (with no limit on length). Here are their unedited responses (in the order they were received):
GILLIAN ANDERSON — BC Green Party
While I am unaware of all of the factors involved with this decision, in principle, I am in favour of health care being delivered in patients’ home communities as much as possible. This strengthens our local healthcare system and creates jobs. When patients and families are waiting longer for test results, there is added worry and stress. What is the price of additional sleepless nights waiting for a result?
As the MLA for Courtenay-Comox, I would listen to the concerns of individuals across the riding and I would work towards a solution that addresses all of the issues involved.
BRENNAN DAY — BC Liberal Party
I took the time to consult with Dr. Bellamy on this issue, and what I heard was extremely concerning.
When St. Josephs was running, our community had a full-service laboratory, providing both anatomical and clinical pathology services; they had the autonomy to hire staff and general pathology was the priority with a focus on patient care here in the Comox Valley
During the planning phase of the new hospital, the pathology department was designed to be full service, in keeping with the St Josephs model, which was working well. The costing and design of the new hospital had this budgeted. At some point in the consultation process, Island Health pushed for microbiology to be removed from the hospital and centralized in Victoria, an experiment that had been tried in Campbell River previously with a resulting marked increase in turnaround times of results.
During the hospital planning process, the head of microbiology for Island Health lobbied the VIHA hospital planning committee for removal of microbiology services to Victoria while being a shareholder in a private company providing these services and therefore having a financial interest in the decision; the fact that this scandalous move was not more broadly reported is shameful as it has directly impacted the quality of healthcare here in the North Island.
Once the plan to centralize services in Victoria had been rammed through by VIHA, the taxpayers in the Comox Valley were stuck with the same tax bill, but considerably less local services and longer wait times. VIHA is currently in the process of transferring more clinical lab services from Comox Valley hospital to the private company in Victoria with further erosion of local services.
This is unacceptable.
Our current MLA was contacted multiple times by concerned physicians, nurses, and techs, but their concerns fell on deaf ears and no action was taken to advocate on behalf of the Comox Valley.
An independent external review must immediately be undertaken to analyze the decisions made by VIHA, as the costs have not been reduced by this decision, only the service we are receiving.
We need to build compassion back into the healthcare we are paying for in the Comox Valley, which was so well done by St Josephs for decades, and look hard at whether the VIHA regional governance model is really working, or if it is simply an organization with a bloated middle and little to no accountability to the taxpayers of the Island.
Our community and those affected by long wait times for serious diagnosis through this system are being ignored. I will make sure I advocate loudly to put compassion back into local healthcare, and ensure we are getting the services we deserve.
RONNA-RAE LEONARD — BC New Democrat Party
The challenge of privatized services is ensuring profit does not override the protection of the public interest. The previous BC Liberal government facilitated the privatization of many services that people rely on, from hospitals to hospital services, from long term care to home care, and so much more. There have been many negative consequences that the John Horgan government turned its attention toward, to bring the public interest back into the forefront.
We repealed the BC Liberal’s Bill 29 and Bill 94 and then introduced Bill 47 to remove the major financial incentives of contract flipping for companies which created an underpaid and unstable healthcare workforce and deprived seniors of a proper standard of care. We brought back community homecare to direct government services when homecare services became compromised. We brought the contracts for laundry and food services at the Comox and Campbell River Hospital back into the public system.
The quality of care and timeliness of service is also at the root of the concerns over pathology service. The BCNDP is committed to providing the care people need where and when they need it. A commitment to a 10-year cancer care plan demonstrates the closer to home commitment for the North Island, with a new Cancer Centre in Nanaimo.
The pathology services contract was awarded under the BC Liberals and was extended for one more year. It will be reviewed after that. We absolutely agree that lab services should be maintained in Courtenay and Campbell River, that’s why we’re hiring more people now. We’ve accomplished much, but there is still so much more to do. We can’t afford to go back to the BC Liberals.
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OCT. 24 PROVINCIAL ELECTION INFORMATION
The 2020 provincial election takes place on Oct. 24.
Advance voting is underway at various locations today in Comox, Courtenay and Merville and tomorrow in Black Creek, Comox and Courtenay.
Candidates in the Courtenay-Comox riding are incumbent Ronna-Rae Leonard (NDP), Gillian Anderson (BC Greens) and Brennan Day (BC Liberals).
In the last election (2017), 66.89 percent of the riding’s 43,671 registered voters cast a ballot. The results were:
NDP Ronna-Rae Leonard received 10,886 votes or 37.36%
BC Liberal Jim Benninger — 10,697 votes or 36.72%
Green Ernie Sellentin — 5,351 votes or 18.37%
Leah McCulloch — 2,201 votes or 7.55%
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I do not identify politically as a Liberal but Mr Day’s investigation and understanding of the current state in north Island health service delivery has me considering it.
In 2014, I relocated from Vancouver to run a one-nurse clinic in a small coastal town. I loved the challenge and several community members described me as the best nurse the town had ever had. In response, VIHA management personally attacked me to the point of mental health injury, forcing me out of the career that I loved for 25 years.
I feel for Dr. Bellamy as I imagine he, like I, am motivated by providing quality, evidence-based health services. Praise and honors do not float my boat but getting kicked in the teeth at the end of a long career of service is unconscionable.
It is time for everyone who can fix all these problems created by Island Health to stop turning a blind eye. Over 3000 North Island citizens, 75 local doctors, the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board and Village of Alert Bay have expressed serious concerns and asked for an independent review of the contract between the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consultants Corporation (VICPCC) and Island Health. Waiting until the renewed contract expires on March 31st, 2021 is too late to begin a review and then resolving all the issues. In the meantime steps are being taken in the CV to hire only anatomic pathologists so VICPCC will be well entrenched to have all the clinical pathology in Victoria and absolutely no clinical pathology backup in the CV. So far no one in Victoria has indicated they ever intend to do anything about this. In fact, all the identical letters to concerned citizens state everything is fine, when it is really not! We have a shortage of doctors, lab techs, nurses etc. We have lost 2 well respected pathologists in the CV who performed excellent work. We cannot afford to lose any more excellent, well trained doctors or other staff. Dr. Aref Tabarsi who is well trained and who has done an exemplary job at the Campbell River Hospital Lab for 15 years was a finalist of 3 in Campbell River for “Health Care Hero of the Yard Award” so this community thinks a great deal of him.
I was diagnosed with some kind of Cancer around the middle of June. After many tests including 2 Cat scans. I still don’t know what type or what meds I need. Awaiting another video conference from Dr. in Victoria in Nov. hope this time I will have some concrete explanations.
The photo accompanying this article prominently features a slide which is an excellent metaphor for the slide in the pathology service in the north island. Thank you MR Day for taking the time to investigate the situation. Island Health is acting in an authoritarian manner and misleading the public. Our MLAs need to represent the citizens of their constituency. Otherwise, we have no one to speak to our concerns.
Yes, its easy to blame; hopefully we can do better through learning of our mistakes. Thank You Brennon for researching and offering a solution. That is the criteria we need in the valley to become better and more focused on patient care rather than money or time saved. So glad I voted for you. We look forward to an amazing few years under your watchful and caring eyes.
In a nutshell, Anderson doesn’t know, Leonard blames the Liberals but did nothing to fix the situation despite community and professional protests, and Day took the time to do his research, talk to Dr. Bellamy, and provide clear answers. I know I voted for the right person.
Hear! Hear! Ms. Witt, I live outside the region, but if I could, I would whole-heartedly support Brennan Day’s election, even though I voted NDP last time.
I do find it interesting that the NDP candidate spent at least half of her answer blaming the previous government for this unfortunate situation at the Comox Valley Hospital. And really did not offer any information on what she would do if reelected. The BC Liberal candidate spent the time to talk with the parties involved to get a better understanding of the situation and has offered a possible course of action.
The VIHA leadership has not changed post election. When the BCNDP question the situation they are told by the same old BC Liberal minds that everything is amazing! So it seems that it is a VIHA/ new hospital systems operations issue.
Don did a very honest, dedicated job as Liberal Cabinet Minister. Dedicated, informed people we need to govern.It is a thankless , but so important position in democracy.
We live in the best place on earth. We need the best people in government to keep this going.