The island health board meeting that wasn't a board meeting
Without public notice, Island Health holds its March board meeting a day early in Victoria, doesn’t address Comox Valley Hospital issues at “public forum” in Courtenay. But seniors health care advocates make passionate pleas for more resources
Those among the several hundred people who packed the Crown Isle Ballroom yesterday (March 29) expecting to attend a meeting of the board of directors of the Vancouver Island Health Authority (Island Health) came away confused.
Those in the standing-room-only audience hoping to hear the Island Health board address well-known problems at the Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals, and perhaps announce some bold corrective measures, came away disappointed.
Yet, everyone left inspired by five community groups who spoke passionately, and pleaded with the board to serve the Comox Valley more equitably.
The confusion arose because Island Health advertised the March 29 event on its website as a regular, official board meeting. It was not.
The board of directors actually met the day before, March 28, in Victoria, without any public notice on its website, probably breaking the government’s own rules on transparency.
There was no notice by Island Health that the March board meeting would occur at any time other than March 29, or in any other location than Courtenay.
When Decafnation contacted board liaison Louise Carlow via email after the meeting about the lack of public notice, she did not respond. Government workers are off now for the long Easter weekend holiday.
The only director to utter even a sound in Courtenay was board chair Leah Hollins, who opened the meeting by looking over the crowd spilling out into the Crown Isle lobby and saying:
“Fair to say, we weren’t anticipating this many people.”
After all the publicity given to the hospital’s poor planning, overcapacity, long emergency waits, staff shortages and low employee morale, she shouldn’t have been surprised. It would have been surprising if there wasn’t a large turnout.
Concern about the performance of our hospital and how Island Health has underserved the north Island runs that high.
Perhaps the board did fear a large gathering, which might explain why they held their official board meeting the day before in Victoria without any public notice, and did not adhere to their published agenda.
The meeting bypassed the agenda it posted on its website — most notably not allowing any time for questions from the floor — and launched into informative presentations by north Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns, Island Health CEO Kathy MacNeil and five community organizations.
Not once did Hollins or MacNeil discuss problems at the Comox Valley or Campbell River hospitals, except at the tail end of the CEO’s report when she called the issues, which were first raised in a series of articles on Decafnation, as “growing pains.”
All that was missing in Island Health’s attempt to downplay issues that are having a serious effect on the lives of their employees and patients was a chorus of happy hospital workers smiling behind them on the podium.
Ironically, MacNeil inadvertently pinpointed the source of problems by noting that only about 15 percent of the people who at the two North Island Hospitals were consulted in the design process.
The 300 people MacNeil said were involved in the design process — out of more than 1,900 staff and doctors — were mostly senior managers and physicians. The few frontline workers who were consulted have told Decafnation their input obviously wasn’t heard or was ignored.
But while the board chair and the CEO shied away from addressing problems head-on in public, several of the presenters were more direct.
Jennifer Pass, representing the Comox Valley Elders Take Action group, told the board that CVH staff are disrespecting people based on age, and recounted two personal stories in support.
Pass also criticized the lack of cleanliness in the hospital. She shared a personal experience in the hospital where she saw beds left unmade for days and filthy bathrooms. Her observations coincide with those of several staff members who have spoken with Decafnation.
On health care for seniors, Pass said 2020 was too long to wait for new residential care beds. Island Health has issued a Request for Proposals to build “up to 120” new complex care beds, which MacNeil estimated would be opened “sometime in 2020.”
That concern was also voiced by Peggy Stirrett of the seniors advocacy group, Senior Voices Comox Valley.
Stirrett said the “up to 120” beds sometime in 2020 is not enough, and not soon enough.
“By 2020, (the Comox Valley) will need 100 or more beds than that, and by 2021 we’ll be back in the same situation as today,” she said.
Seniors Voices believes there is a current need for between 151 to 506 additional residential care beds based on several formulas used by the government itself.
“The Comox Valley has not received an equitable share of the resources,” she said.
Melanie Olson, spoke on behalf of the Power of 5, a group of “frustrated caregivers trying to keep their loved ones (with dementia) at home as long as possible.”
Olson told the board that Island Health’s support for family, unpaid caregivers is lacking, especially considering that they save the province an estimated $3.5 billion per year.
Hollins skipped over the 10 minutes set aside for questions from the floor (as specified in the agenda) and then abruptly closed the meeting with a tone-deaf remark.
“It’s clear there are many issues in health care. We’ll never be able to meet them all,” she said. “But we appreciate hearing from you today.”