A new Medical Assistance in Death advocacy group called the Equal Access Committee has emerged in the Comox Valley.

New MAiD advocacy group emerges in the Comox Valley

Website, online petition for Equal Access Committee

A new group – the Equal Access Committee – has emerged in the Comox Valley, speaking out about the contentious issues of long-term residential care and hospice beds, and how they are controlled in the community.

Currently, the Comox Valley has four hospice beds, situated at The Views, on St. Joseph’s General Hospital property.

The government has approved two additional hospice beds for the Comox Valley, giving the community a total of six.

Furthermore, Island Health is currently examining bids for a 70-bed long-term care facility, after a request for proposals was issued.

Unconfirmed reports are that at least two of the bids are from non-faith-based operations – bids which include space for the six hospice beds.

While also unconfirmed, speculation is that St. Joseph’s, which recently announced a partnership with Glacier View Lodge (a local long-term care facility) and Providence Health Care, has also submitted a bid for the long-term care facility.

The issue of contention is that the hospital will not acknowledge the Supreme Court’s ruling on Medical Assistance in Death.

This is where the Equal Access Committee comes in.

According to its recently-launched website (equalaccesscommittee.ca), the EAC is “a group of concerned citizens of the Comox Valley (who) believe that long-term care and access to Medical Assistance in Dying should not be controlled by a faith-based institution.”

Along with the website, the group has launched a petition. There is an online petition already in circulation at http://bit.ly/2rap7Wx , and hard copies of the petition are also available on the EAC website.

EAC chair Reg Crone said the group emerged as a result of a letter to the editor that ran in the Feb. 14 edition of the Comox Valley Record (Comox couple concerned about future of hospice).

“I got a call from a friend… and she, and I, and another lady, said, ‘Let’s get together and see what we can do about it.’

“We got the names of some people who have been very involved in this whole issue for some time and asked them if they can join us. It’s that simple.”

“We absolutely respect the right of any individual or group to voice their concerns, petition government and advocate for change,” said St. Joseph’s Hospital president and CEO Jane Murphy, in a prepared statement sent to The Record. “However, there are some statements [on the EAC website and in the petition] that can be misconstrued and we wish to correct some inaccuracies as outlined in the petition and provide some additional information.”

Hospital statement on Equal Access Committee by CVRecord on Scribd

St. Joseph’s Hospital is steadfast in its right to “respectfully decline” providing MAiD on its premises.

“Not providing MAiD is in keeping with the provision in British Columbia for denominational health organizations to provide services that are compatible with their values and ethics,” Murphy said in the statement. “The Master Agreement between the Province of BC and the Denominational Health Association (a registered non-profit association) was signed in 1995. The agreement recognizes the rights of owners of denominational care facilities to own, manage, operate and conduct the affairs of their respective facilities and to carry out their respective religious missions. Referring to St Joseph’s as ‘refusing’ to provide MAiD does not acknowledge the right of denominational health care organizations to respectfully decline to provide this service.”

The committee plans to petition the Ministry of Health and Island Health on the following four points:

1. Residential and hospice care be available from secular institutions as is the case everywhere else on Vancouver Island.

2. The Minister of Health prevent the impending transfer of the assets and/or operations of Glacier View Lodge to a faith-based organization.

3. Any new residential care beds created in the Comox Valley be granted to a secular institution.

4. All six community hospice beds be located together on a secular site.

“People should have access to MAiD regardless of whether they are in a long-term care institution, or hospice. Regardless of where they are, it’s important that they have access to it (MAiD) and that it is not restricted,” said Crone. “That’s really the purpose of this group.”

In the St. Joseph’s Hospital statement, Murphy said St. Joseph’s will abide by whatever decision is made by Island Health.

“The decision for the location of community residential hospice beds rests with Island Health. As an Island Health affiliate, we work closely with Island Health and will respect decisions made by Island Health and will continue to work jointly with them to support the decision for the future of hospice beds in the Comox Valley.”

The Equal Access Committee has made an application to Island Health for a meeting June 22.

The committee is also hoping to hold an informational meeting in the Comox Valley for anyone interested in the direction of the group.

The Comox Valley Hospice Society supports the efforts of the EAC.

“The Comox Valley Hospice Society believes hospice palliative care quality and access should be the same here as in other communities across Vancouver Island,” said Lynn Brandon, president, CVHS, in a statement to The Record. “To accomplish this, it is imperative the six community hospice beds now approved by Island Health be located together on a non-faith based site. This will ensure the highest quality care in an optimal homelike setting can be offered to the community at large.”

Brandon stressed that the CVHS remains neutral in its stance regarding MAiD.

“The Comox Valley Hospice Society believes each person is in the best position to make decisions about the end-of-life care that matters most to them,” she said. “We recognize options in end-of-life care are evolving in response to legalization of medically assisted dying which is overwhelmingly supported by Canadians nationally and in the Comox Valley. We remain committed to supporting people’s wishes by offering emotional, spiritual and practical care in homes, in residential care, in hospital and in our community hospice.”

Glacier View Lodge was also made aware of the committee and the website by The Record, on May 15, and was offered a chance to address the website and the petition prior to the deadline for the May 18 paper. GVL chair Bob Scales acknowledged receipt of the email. No further correspondence was received prior to deadline.

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