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12Jun

9,500 patient complaints lodged with B.C. health authorities over treatment quality

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A record number of complaints were filed with health authorities last year over patient care, more than 9,500 according to the Patient Care Quality Review Boards report for 2017/18.


Gerry Kahrmann / PROVINCE

A record number of complaints were filed with health authorities last year over patient care – about 9,500 according to the Patient Care Quality Review Boards report for 2017/18.

That’s up from 8,900 the year before and about 9,000 the year before that.

Patient Care Quality Offices and review boards were formed 10 years ago to give health system users and their families an outlet to voice their frustration. The boards in each health region accept complaints from patients and others only if their concerns about their experiences are not resolved to their satisfaction by Patient Care Quality Offices in each health region.

Less than two per cent of complaints are escalated to the review boards which suggests patients are largely satisfied with how their local health authorities are handling their concerns, said Richard Swift, chair of the Island Health Patient Care Quality Review Board.

Given the fact there are tens of millions of health care interactions, the number of complaints is relatively small, said Swift.

The latest annual report gives scarce information about the nature of complaints and recommended changes but a few of them include:

Island Health

• A complaint pertained to various issues including extraordinarily long wait time for care in a hospital emergency room for which Island Health acknowledged and apologized. The complaint also involved an allegation that a patient was assaulted by a staff member in the ER. The health authority agreed to develop a policy detailing what actions must be taken when such complaints are made, including when police or regulatory bodies for health professionals should be contacted.

• The Island review board recommended a hospital conduct exit interviews with patients to ask about their satisfaction levels with the quality of care and communication. Currently, the health ministry sends out surveys on a random basis which are then reported to health authorities on a quarterly basis. But Swift says more can be done to ensure patients are given opportunities to comment on their care.

Fraser Health

• A care aide escorted a frail patient to the bathroom but then left the patient alone to attend to another matter. The low cognition patient fell in the bathroom. There are more than a dozen policies regarding the prevention of falls, some of which were not followed in this case.

Vancouver Coastal Health

• A complaint was lodged about a vulnerable patient who went to a hospital emergency department. The board said the case was an example of how not to “prejudge patients who appear to be homeless, suffering from mental health, addiction issues and/or other challenges.” In response, hospital staff said there were departmental meetings where staff was reminded about the need to “provide care for the patients as a whole, the importance of listening to patients and their family, and the need to not prejudge patients on any aspect of their presentation.”

• In a case not highlighted in the annual report, a patient bled to death after paramedics could not get access to the individual’s Downtown Eastside building because of multiple security locks on doors and elevators. Health minister Adrian Dix said family members were not satisfied with the way complaints were handled so he has taken the rare step of ordering an independent review. 

The case pertains to Tracey Gundersen who bled to death last November after it reportedly took paramedics over half an hour to get to her sixth-floor suite. Firefighters who have master keys to such buildings were eventually dispatched to get paramedics inside. But a few years ago, B.C. Emergency Health Services changed policies and procedures to cut down on multiple crews attending each call so firefighters are no longer sent as first responders to many cases.

Gundersen’s daughter told CBC her mother was dying while on a phone line with a dispatcher and she’s angry that her mother’s case was not treated as life-threatening and that paramedics didn’t call for firefighters’ help sooner, especially since a firehall was just a block away.

Interior Health

• An incapacitated patient’s valuables and personal effects went missing at a hospital and were never recovered so the health region offered $500 in compensation. The board ordered the health region to have designated staff members whose job entails the safekeeping and documentation of patients’ belongings.

Northern Health

• A long-standing complaint going back to 2015 when Northern Health officials were alerted by a staff member to lapses in medical device disinfection and sterilization procedures related to instruments called endoscopes. Thousands of patients had procedures like colonoscopies that relied on the scopes but a consultation with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control did not show any “increase in specific infection types” during the two year period when the errors took place.

Although patients were sent letters to inform them of the breeches, the review board recommended a more fulsome public communication plan including direct meetings with patients or even town hall meetings to broadcast the errors, risks, actions, and any mitigating steps. As well, the region has to ensure that when such things happen, all affected patients should have a doctor who can address any concerns and ongoing needs.

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28May

This B.C. woman lodged hundreds of 911 complaints about the homeless. Now she’s advocating for them | CBC Radio

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A B.C. woman who spent nearly 15 years trying to bar the homeless from trespassing on her property is now advocating for them.

Between 2004 and 2018, Peggy Allen made approximately 500 calls to police about incidents involving people from the emergency shelter next door in Abbotsford, B.C.

“I became this crazy person that couldn’t function,” she told The Current.

During that time, Peggy and her husband, Ron Allen, recall numerous incidents they say are enough to “put fear into your hearts.”

One such affair saw Peggy chased through the house and off the balcony by a person who, she believed, was having a bad trip from an illicit drug. She fell backwards, landing on the ground that was 1.2 metres below, and injured her neck and back.

However, she had a revelatory moment in September 2018 when a woman walking up her driveway swore at her, she says.

“I looked at her and I just went crazy and I started running toward her. I was going to hurt her,” Allen recalled.

When The Current visited the Allens’ home, 14 tents were pitched on the shoulder of Gladys Avenue. (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

Then a “light switched” in her brain.

“I just stopped halfway down there and I said: ‘Peggy, I hate the way you are. This isn’t who you are,'” she said.

“I turned around, I went back to the house and I just bawled my head off.”

She describes the experience as an “incredible metamorphosis” in her life and is now giving back to the people who she once referred to as the source of her “nightmare.”

“I don’t expect anyone to jump on the bandwagon that lives around here because they’ve been through hell and they’ve had a lot of bad things happen. But I got to tell you that what I’m gaining from helping these people way outweighs what I lost.”

Dream house

The Allens and their two sons, who were 7 and 10 at the time, moved into their home on Gladys Avenue, near Highway 11 and S Fraser Way, in September 1989.

The lush, half-acre property was secluded, shrouded by a forest of towering cedars. The bungalow itself is removed from the road — separated by a long, 50-metre driveway — and the entire property backs onto a creek.

“It was the perfect life for us,” Peggy Allen recalled, an emotional tone hanging in her voice.

“Our kids could run free and we could have animals.”

Fifteen years later, the Salvation Army Centre for Hope moved into the space next door, and she says the family’s “life changed overnight.”

They tried to move, but couldn’t sell the house for the amount they paid.

Allen erected housing around her home to stop trespassers, who were living in tents near her home. (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

When nothing changed, she invested thousands of dollars to line the perimeter of the property with a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire — like something from a prison — and outfitted its exterior with a security camera system.

Yet the problems persisted.

“The point is it’s all little tiny stuff, but it’s huge,” Allen said of the emotional scars they had as a result of the encounters.

Housing affordability

In addition to serving as an emergency shelter, the Salvation Army delivers a litany of services — such as a meal centre, mental health supports and addiction counselling.

When The Current visited the Allens’ home, 14 tents were pitched on the shoulder of Gladys Avenue, occupied by people either accessing the facility’s wide range of services or transitioning out of it. Others were milling around the Allens’ property on their way to and from the shelter.

Residents in a homeless camp in Jubilee Park in 2013, a short distance away from Gladys Avenue where the Allens’ home is currently located. In 2015, a B.C. Supreme Court judge struck down Abbotsford bylaws that prohibited homeless people from erecting temporary shelters and sleeping in city parks. (CBC)

Homeless counts take place every year over a 24-hour period in Abbotsford.

Last year, volunteers identified 233 homeless people over the 24-hour survey period on March 19 and 20. The city report notes this is, at best, only an estimate, and does not capture every homeless person in the community.  

Of those surveyed by volunteers, 111 people were living on the street in tents or makeshift structures or sleeping in their cars/campers, instead of one of Abbotsford’s seven shelters.

The roadside near Allens’ home. People living in tents are trying to access services from the nearby Salvation Army. (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

Another 45 were couchsurfing, while 66 people used shelters.

The city report says the survey respondents cited a lack of affordable housing and the steep housing market as the top reasons they are homeless.

Giving back

Peggy Allen is in the process of modifying a shipping container into a bathroom with a sink to be placed at the entrance to her driveway.   

She also volunteers with Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP) to try and shine a “whole different light” on homelessness.

The city-run outreach program, which was started by people with lived experience of homelessness or drug addiction, aims to repair frayed relationships between business owners and residents by paying them to clean up outside their properties.

Rob Larson works for BEAP. He used to live on the streets, and says his interactions with Allen have changed his life.

Allen’s driveway in Abbotsford, B.C. She said that it was chasing trespassers up this driveway that she experienced an ‘incredible metamorphosis.’ (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

“The way I look at it, if you give back a little bit to your community, they’ll give you back a whole armful of what you might need here, or just open arms, right?” he said.

The pair are now good friends, a reality Peggy said she never imagined during their first meeting.

He hugged me and he cared for me without even knowing me.– Peggy Allen

“He hugged me so hard the first time I met him, he scared the hell out of me,” she recalled.

“But I was the one with the fear, not him.

“He was the one with the love and that was one of the first steps for me to make a change in my thinking because he hugged me and he cared for me without even knowing me.”

When people ask what changed her perspective, she answers: “Nothing… I changed my mind.”

Click ‘listen’ near the top of this page to hear the full documentary.


Written by Amara McLaughlin, produced by Anne Penman and The Current’s Documentary editor Joan Webber.


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