Jennifer Pass presented on behalf of Elders Take Action at the Island Health board meeting on Thursday. Photo by Scott Strasser.

Seniors advocacy group criticizes seniors’ treatment at new Comox Valley hospital

The Comox Valley Elders Take Action presented at Island Health’s board meeting in Courtenay, March 29

The Comox Valley Elders Take Action group took a swipe at the North Island Hospital’s treatment of some seniors at Island Health’s board of directors meeting on March 29.

A few hundred Comox Valley residents attended the packed meeting, which took place at the Crown Isle Golf Resort in Courtenay. The meeting included presentations from Island Health board members, an update on health data in the Comox Valley, and public presentations from various advocacy groups.

During the public presentation portion, Jennifer Pass, the co-ordinator of Elders Take Action, highlighted negative experiences shared by herself and other seniors in the Comox Valley at Courtenay’s new hospital.

She argued in her presentation that Island Health needs to develop better policies to “ensure our elders are treated with respect and assumptions are not made about their diagnoses based on age.”

She also criticized the facility’s state of cleanliness, saying she resorted to cleaning one of the hospital’s bathrooms herself when she was admitted there for a day surgery in February.

“Staff told me they were housing seniors awaiting residential care in beds for day surgery and that many were incontinent,” she said. “This seems to me the preconditions for a perfect storm.”

Pass also shared an account of an 88-year-old woman who was admitted to the new hospital in late November for hand pain at roughly 8 a.m. one morning. Pass said that after going to the hospital by ambulance, the woman spent two hours waiting to see a doctor, before being told at 10 a.m. that she simply had arthritis and that she shouldn’t have used up an ambulance.

Pass said a later follow-up showed the woman had developed nerve damage.

“Assumptions are being made about people’s health and diagnoses based on age, and elders are being treated with disrespect and as if their medical conditions are not important,” she said. “Island Health has work to do in seniors’ care.”

Island Health president and CEO Kathy MacNeil said after the meeting that she was deeply disappointed to hear of some patients’ poor experiences at the new hospital.

“We have a patient care quality office that is in place to take any kinds of concerns or compliments that patients might have related to their care,” she told media.

MacNeil added that data from that office hasn’t shown any indicators that negative patient experiences are increasing at the Comox Valley hospital.

“But we need to do a deeper dive to make sure we haven’t missed anything,” she said. “It was very disappointing to hear that was the experience [of some people], in terms of the bias experienced by people who shared their stories today.”

The $332-million North Island Hospital Comox Valley Campus opened in October 2017.

The facility has faced some problems since opening, including operating above its patient capacity and being under-staffed.

“We’re still in the stabilization phase and probably still will be in it for a while longer,” said MacNeil, of the hospital’s first six months of operation.

“We at Island Health need to make sure we’re addressing those concerns and making sure there are some shorter-term interventions that will matter to staff and patients.”

The board meeting on March 29 also included presentations from various advocacy groups on the need for supportive housing in the Comox Valley, the need for policies to address the region’s poor air quality, and the need for more long-term care beds for seniors with dementia.

Correction: a previous version of this story stated that the 88-year-old woman spent the night at the hospital waiting to see a doctor. She actually went to the hospital in the early morning.

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