Elected officials heard two different messages this week about the residential care deal between Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Trellis Seniors’ Services.
The agreement, announced last June, will see VCH contract beds in the privately owned and managed Silverstone Care Centre in Sechelt and close Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge.
About 30 members of the group Protect Public Health Care Sunshine Coast were at the Legislature March 1 to watch MLA Nicholas Simons present their petition calling for the VCH-Trellis deal to be scrapped.
The doctors of the Sunshine Coast Division of Family Practice, meanwhile, are saying that after meetings with VCH, and in light of a worsening space crunch at Sechelt Hospital, they want to see the Silverstone project go ahead as a first step toward getting the number of long-term care beds the area needs.
In a letter to Coast Reporter, Dr. Jim Petzold, the lead physician on the Division of Family Practice’s residential care committee, said “we support the urgent implementation of the contract signed by the Trellis Group with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) for the building of the Silverstone long-term care facility ... Although 20 is far short of our new bed requirements, it is a badly needed start toward meeting our needs.”
Petzold and Dr. Joerg Jaschinski were scheduled to present at the March 1 meeting of Sechelt council. Petzold said before the presentation, which took place after Coast Reporter’s deadline, that it was not being done under the banner of the Division of Family Practice and would focus on the background issues driving the need for more long-term care beds.
In a summary for the council agenda, Jaschinski and Petzold wrote: “Sechelt Hospital has for a long time been running at 130 per cent over capacity and this is the highest bed occupancy in the VCH region. There are between six and 10 elderly patients admitted in the hospital at a given time who are awaiting a nursing home bed. There are also numerous elderly individuals in our community who would be better served in a nursing home. This has paralyzed the flow of acute care in the hospital. It is not unusual for the majority of our ER beds to be taken up by hospital admissions due to the over-capacity situation. This makes work in the ER challenging and frustrating.”
Petzold also said the Division of Family Practice’s criticism of the lack of consultation with doctors, local governments, and the wider community outlined in a letter to Health Minister Terry Lake last fall still stands, but they’re satisfied VCH will take a different approach in the future.
The Ministry of Health has also acknowledged that.
In a letter to the Regional Hospital District, assistant deputy minister Arlene Paton said, “Staff at the health authority recognize that more could have been done in the planning and early stages to directly engage with the community and discuss the potential options that might present themselves. While VCH would not have been able to discuss the specific applications they received, they acknowledge they could have held sessions with Sechelt residents to generally discuss residential care needs and options in the community.”
Petzold said the Division of Family Practice’s meetings with VCH have been encouraging.
“They’ve come up with a couple of ways in which they said they’d be willing to explore meeting those additional bed requirements,” Petzold said. “They are committed to putting more money into home care services, but in addition they said there is the option of expanding Silverstone and they’d be willing to look at refurbishing the current Shorncliffe facility to create a dementia facility. These are all positive things.”
VCH wouldn’t confirm if plans to convert Shorncliffe into a dementia facility are on the table, or how far planning for the future of Shorncliffe and Totem has progressed.
“We are very early in this consultative process so it’s premature to discuss specifics,” said VCH’s Anna Marie D’Angelo.
Before tabling the petition, which at last count had around 10,000 signatures, Simons raised the issue in Question Period, asking: “Will the [health] minister please explain to the family members and caregivers why seniors are paying the price for this government’s failure?”
Premier Christy Clark fielded the question, and responded by acknowledging the importance of the patient-caregiver relationship in long-term care, and pointing out that the deal will bring “a new facility that will be state of the art with an additional over-and-above 20 new beds.” She then went on to list several projects the province is funding.
Petzold said the message the Division of Family Practice wants to deliver is that time is of the essence when it comes to getting more long-term care beds. “If we could turn back the clock, ideally we’d be looking at the creation of a new publicly built, publicly funded, and publicly operated facility that provides not 20 new beds but something in the order of 50 to 60 new beds – and it would be under construction as we speak.”
According to Petzold, the doctors are reluctantly agreeing that the Trellis plan should go forward as soon as practical because the longer the wait for new beds, the worse the situation at Sechelt Hospital will get.
In the meantime, he said, the Division of Family Practice is going to keep the pressure on VCH and the health ministry.
“We’re going to be very, very proactive in making sure that, first of all, VCH does agree that the standard of care [at Silverstone] will not be compromised because it’s a privately run facility. Secondly, we will be very proactive in making sure VCH continues to work collaboratively with the community, us, and other stakeholders like the Regional Hospital [District] board, to make sure that additional beds are coming.”