Fort St. John’s only long-term care home is failing seniors, family members say | CBC News

Scott Campbell recalls the time he went to visit his 100-year-old mother at her long-term care home in Fort St. John, B.C., and found her shivering and crying under a mountain of blankets, unable to warm up. 

Campbell, who is the volunteer chair of the facility’s resident and family council, says he went straight to management at Peace Villa, but they said there was nothing they could do because the thermostats are set to a certain range and space heaters are banned. 

“It makes you sad. It makes you angry. It makes you despise the people running the place,” said Campbell, who described his mother Mary as a “a tough pioneer woman from the North Peace” who was teaching students in a single-room schoolhouse with no power at age 17. 

“In a situation where things could easily be changed, they won’t,” he told CBC News.

The temperature issue is just one of many problems that Campbell has highlighted at Peace Villa, a facility licensed by Northern Health that has been the subject of dozens of complaints since 2019.

These complaints include lack of food for residents, emergency call buzzers left out of reach of residents, and difficulties in the process of actually lodging complaints. 

Peace Villa is the only long-term care home in Fort St. John, with the nearest alternative being Dawson Creek, around 65 kilometres away.

Two-storey building in Fort St John
Peace Villa has been subject to 49 official complaints to the Patient Care Quality Office and Northern Health. (Google)

At the last residents’ survey conducted by the B.C. seniors advocate in 2017, 27 per cent of Peace Villa residents rated their quality of care as less than “good,” almost twice the provincial average of 15 per cent.

The home has been subject to 49 official complaints to the Patient Care Quality Office and Northern Health. But Campbell says that number doesn’t include less formal complaints lodged with staff and management at the facility. 

In a written statement, Northern Health said it couldn’t comment on specific complaints due to privacy concerns.

In response to Campbell’s concerns about heating, it said staff check windows, adjust thermostats, and provide warm clothes and hot drinks when a resident reports being too cold. 

Residential care homes are governed by the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, which sets requirements for care providers to follow, including room temperatures that are “safe and comfortable for a person.” 

Campbell says the thermostats at Peace Villa are set between 22 C and 24 C, whereas his mother is comfortable closer to 27 C. 

A man standing in front a snowy building
Scott Campbell says he wants to see changes at Peace Villa. (Scott Campbell/Submitted)

Food for residents

The Community Care Act also mandates at least two snacks a day be served in between meals — but this is another requirement Campbell says he often sees ignored.

According to Campbell, who says he’s at Peace Villa daily, over a two-week period he noticed snacks missing at least four times.

“It becomes a minimum of 15 hours between the last time the person ate, and the next time they’re eating. It’s too long when you’re a senior citizen,” he said. 

In response to that concern, Northern Health told CBC News that snacks are provided three times a day, and at the request of residents.

But Campbell said residents can be reluctant to continuously ask staff for help, or simply unable.

“They don’t want to become a bother, and some of them don’t have the cognitive ability to ask,” he said.  

A woman in a green jacket holds her hands up gesturing as she stands at a podium with a slideshow behind her in the background.
B.C. seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie speaks in Victoria following the release of a report on long-term care providers in September. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

According to a report compiled by the provincial seniors’ advocate, Peace Villa also has a much higher percentage of residents prescribed anti-psychotic medications without a diagnosis of psychosis — 41 per cent, compared to the provincial average of 27 per cent. 

B.C. seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie says that’s a red flag. 

“Oftentimes people will present as agitated because they’re unhappy… Maybe they’re hungry, maybe they’re in pain and nobody’s paying attention,” Mackenzie said. 

Family members feeling ignored, fear retribution

Caroline Alexander, another member of the Peace Villa resident and family council, says she’s behind some of the formal complaints about the facility.

She says the process of lodging a complaint can be hard to navigate and time-consuming. 

“They set up a system to make it difficult for people to file complaints and feel like it goes anywhere,” she told CBC News. 

A dirty snow highway is seen with a white cement sign that reads "Fort St. John, the energetic city"
Peace Villa is the only long-term care facility in Fort St. John. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Last November, B.C.’s Ministry of Health strengthened support and regulations for resident and family councils in an effort to ensure they had input in the living conditions of their loved ones. 

These changes included solidified descriptions of roles and responsibilities of councils in relation to the care home operator; an obligation for the operator to respond in writing to recommendations brought forward by the council; and the sharing of relevant information pertaining to the care of residents. 

Northern Health says it works collaboratively with the Peace Villa council, and is “grateful to the members… for their work and commitment.”

But Campbell says he feels the relationship with management has declined since the new legislation, and that residents and their family members fear being labelled “troublemakers.” 

In the meantime, Campbell says seniors still aren’t getting the care they need.

“The seniors need the help, and one day — Lord forbid — I may be there,” he said.

“… Our seniors are suffering. It needs to be changed.” 

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