Island Health takes over operation of Comox Valley Seniors facility following investigation

WatchAn investigation by Island Health after numerous complaints revealed staffing shortages and an inability by the operator Retirement Concepts to come into compliance.

A promotional video by Retirement Concepts paints a picture of smiling, happy residents receiving a high standard of care in its facilities.

But that care at Comox Valley Seniors Village in Courtenay has been the subject of an Island Health investigation since 2018.

“Issues such as inadequate staff on the units, food not up to the standard they would have expected and other issues related to the management of a particular infectious outbreak in February,” said Mark Blandford, Island Health Executive Director, Primary Care and Seniors Health.

The allegations that came from residents, their families and workers included situations like residents going up to a week without a bath.

Staffing levels that rarely met the required standard under provincial legislation is getting much of the blame.

As a result, the health authority has made the highly unusual step of appointing its own administrator at the facility for six months.

“The number of complaints and the nature of the complaints and the length of time it was taking the operator to fix those issues gave the greatest concern to the Medical Health Officer,” added Blandford. “The appointment of an administrator will provide Island Health the clarity of leadership required to return the facility to compliance, providing residents with the care they deserve and families the peace of mind they should have with publicly-funded long-term care.”

Comox Valley Seniors Village is one of seven on Vancouver Island and 20 in BC operated by Retirement Concepts in Vancouver.

“A detailed investigation undertaken by the Licensing program in August and September found two key areas of non-compliance with the Community Care and Assisted Living Act. The volume of contraventions, lack of timely responses to address the contraventions and the duration of the contraventions were unacceptable. The risk rating of the facility had not materially changed, even after conditions were placed on the facility’s license,” Island Health stated in a press release.

Retirement Concepts was purchased by the Chinese insurance company Anbang in February 2017. Then a year after that the Chinese government took control of Anbang amid allegations of fraud.

Island Health wouldn’t comment on what is now effectively Chinese government ownership of Retirement Concepts, only saying it believes it can bring Comox Valley Seniors Village into compliance.

The BC Government Employees Union representing workers at Comox Valley Seniors Village says there’s a reason the operator can’t keep employees

“They are working numerous hours of overtime trying to provide quality care for these seniors,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith. “We haven’t been able to negotiate with the company to have wages that are equal to what members could get working for Island Health.”

Susan Abermann was appointed as the administrator for a period of 6 months effective September 30, 2019. Ms. Abermann has a 25-year career in seniors care in British Columbia including serving as Island Health’s lead for residential care services.

She also was the executive director of another facility owned by the operator of Comox Valley Seniors Village.

Comox Valley Seniors Village is a privately owned 136-bed long-term care facility operated by Retirement Concepts. Island Health publicly funds 120 of the beds.

Island Health says it’s currently investigating two other Retirement Concepts facilities in Nanaimo and Victoria.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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