B.C.’s health officials are set to share an update on novel coronavirus. Genome BC / PNG
Another case of the coronavirus has been diagnosed in British Columbia.
The provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says a woman in her 30s has been diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning this week from Iran. The woman lives in the Fraser Health region.
“Our continued view is that the risk to B.C. is low, we are acting with vigilance,” she said.
Henry said staff were surprised by a new case linked to Iran, which only recently reported it had five cases of COVID-19 and two deaths.
“That triggered interest from people around the world,” Henry said. “I expect there will be an investigation to determine where the exposure occurred.”
Iran has reported at least 20 other people in various areas who are being tested, Henry said. “And we’ll be linking with them to see where this person had been in Iran — we’re tracing her travel all the way back to Iran.”
Henry says the woman’s case is relatively mild and a number of her close contacts are in isolation.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the patient’s samples have been sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Man., for final confirmation.
This brings the number of cases of COVID-19 in B.C. to six.
“So far in B.C. all of our cases have been relatively mild and managed mostly at home,” she said.
Henry said earlier that four of the five people diagnosed with the virus were symptom free.
The fifth person, a woman in her 30s who returned from Shanghai, China, is in isolation at her home in B.C.’s Interior.
Henry said over 500 people have been tested for the virus in B.C. and many of those tested positive for the flu.
“We’re in containment,” she explained, adding that because many cases are mild, the virus can be transmitted when people few symptoms.
“It makes it very difficult to contain the virus. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Three cases of the virus have also been confirmed in Ontario.
As of Thursday, the World Health Organization said there were 75,748 confirmed cases globally, with 548 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. The majority of those cases are in China, with 2,121 deaths recorded to date in the country.
Outside of China, there have been eight deaths across 26 countries. In Canada, there have only been eight cases to date, with only one case being transmitted outside of China. There have been no deaths due to COVID-19 in Canada.
— With files from Lynn Mitges, Stephanie Ip, and the Canadian Press
In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.
The heavy workload faced by B.C. nurses put them at higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their patients, according to new research from the University of B.C.
The study, published in the journal Nursing Open and funded by the B.C. Nurses Union, “validates” anecdotal evidence from nurses on the front lines of the health care system, BCNU president Christine Sorensen said Thursday.
“Nurses are working in a pressure cooker,” she said. “That pressure in the system transfers to patients … which can sometimes lead them to take it out on the first person who helps them.”
According to the union, 26 nurses each month suffer a violent injury at work, accounting for 31 per cent of all injuries from acts of violence in B.C.
Nurses report being verbally assaulted, which includes yelling, swearing and racial slurs, as well as physical abuse, which ranges from throwing food or bed pans to sexual and physical assault.
In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.
The UBC study found complaints from patients or their families are sometimes a precursor to emotional or physical violence.
Complaints can be part of the “spiral of aggression” that eventually leads to violence, said study author Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor of nursing at UBC.
The complaints often stem from workload issues, which affect the quality of patient care. The study looked at several factors to determine workload, including common measures such as staffing and patient load, as well as the number of interruptions, number of admissions and how sick or how much assistance patients required.
“The evidence shows that when nurses are overworked, they get more complaints. If they don’t have time to deal with the complaints, the situation can escalate,” said Havaei.
Nurses said they received an average of one complaint per month and experienced emotional or physical abuse from patients or their families at about the same frequency.
“We need to address the root cause of the problem, which is the heavy workload,” said Havaei, adding that a system to better track patient complaints would only be a “bandaid approach” to preventing violence.
Sorensen called on the provincial government to provide additional nurses to provide better patient care and help with workload, as well as protection safety officers to ensure safety.
In December, the provincial government announced a new agency to tackle workplace safety for health care workers, earmarking $8.5 million over the next three years.
The province’s health-sector bargaining associations, health employers and the provincial government will lead the new non-profit organization, which was born out of a working group of the same stakeholders.
In 2018, injury claim costs from health care workers totalled more than $107 million, an increase of about $11 million from the previous year, according to the province. It is expected the new agency will be operational by late spring.
Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health. Submitted photo / PNG
For weeks, Candace Marynuik hadn’t felt like herself.
She might have told a doctor about her “weird symptoms,” but since moving to Fort St. John in 2017 she had been forced to rely on the local walk-in clinic, lining up in sub-zero weather before sunrise to be turned away when every space was filled.
“I hadn’t seen a doctor in over two years,” she said. “Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know what to do about it.”
In September, a friend suggested an app she had used to get a prescription refilled.
Within hours, Marynuik had a virtual appointment with a B.C. doctor, and within a week she had done blood tests and an X-ray. She even had a suspected diagnosis — multiple sclerosis. She would need an MRI and a visit to the University of B.C.’s MS clinic in Vancouver to confirm the diagnosis, but doctors she had never met in person connected her with the right specialists.
“I don’t know how long I would have waited (to go to the hospital in Fort St. John),” she said. “By the time I got on the plane to Vancouver, my brain was in a fog.”
The Babylon app by Telus Health was launched in B.C. in March, at that time the only province in Canada with a billing code to pay doctors for virtual visits.
While Telus was reluctant to provide Postmedia News with information on the number of British Columbians who have used the free app so far, the telecommunications company said “tens of thousands” of people have downloaded Babylon and completed consultations. January saw the highest downloads to date, with a 30 per cent increase over December.
“The growth has been significant,” said Juggy Sihota, vice-president of Telus Consumer Health. “Some of the stories people have told us bring tears to my eyes. It’s been used by a 97-year-old who had trouble seeing a doctor because of mobility issues, someone who said the app saved their family’s Christmas (and) people in rural areas who have to drive hours to see a doctor.”
Sihota said the number of doctors registered with the app is growing, with many drawn to the system by the work-life balance it provides. Some work part-time in clinics or their own practices and take calls through Babylon on the side. Like a physical walk-in clinic, the doctors bill MSP for the consultations.
Sihota said “connected care” is at the heart of the Babylon app. While patients receive access to the doctor’s written notes, they can also play back a video of their consultation. The virtual clinic also helps them arrange the necessary tests and followup appointments.
In a short survey conducted for Telus after each appointment, 92 per cent of respondents said their main request was resolved by the end of their consultation. Asked to rate the service, they gave it an average 4.9 out of five stars, a number that hasn’t dropped since March.
The top conditions treated by doctors through the app include mental health, sexual health, skin disorders and respiratory issues. So far, more women have used it than men.
“We should all have equal access to health care,” said Sihota. “We believe technology can make our health-care system better at less cost.”
Babylon isn’t the only example of virtual health care in B.C.
The primary health-care strategy announced by the provincial government in 2018 included an emphasis on technology solutions. At a news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said technology would be used to bring health care closer to home for those in rural and remote areas through the use of telehealth services and new digital home-health monitoring.
B.C. Children’s Hospital uses technology to link specialists to doctors and patients throughout the province through 19 telehealth centres, conducting about 140 virtual appointments per month. Specialists also provide advice to adult patients through a program called Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise.
The government paid nearly $3 million for about 43,000 video-conference visits to doctors in 2015-16. The number of virtual visits rose to over one million in 2016-17.
Telus Health has recently made a push into the health-care field, buying a chain of elite medical clinics and reportedly spending over $2 billion on a variety of digital-health tools.
Some doctors have questioned whether virtual health care erodes quality of care by eliminating long-term doctor patient relationships in favour of episodic care, while also making it more attractive for doctors to work for a virtual clinic, making it even harder to see a doctor in person.
As B.C. heads into the fifth year of a public health emergency due to the high number of opioid overdose deaths, Vancouver Island still doesn’t have a single residential-treatment for youth. Provincewide, the number of youth beds and services lag demand.
For youth who do get one of those precious treatment beds, their transition back to community-based services is badly planned and poorly managed.
Had all of that been in place, 16-year-old Elliot Cleveland Eurchuk might have survived his addiction rather than being counted among the 4,850 British Columbians to have died between January 2016 and Oct. 31, 2019.
But the teen’s legacy could be — should be — that Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan making addictions treatment as much of a priority as harm reduction.
Recommendations from the coroner’s inquest into Eurchuk’s 2018 death released on Monday provide some direction: More acute-care beds for youths including a residential treatment centre in Victoria; more and better access to addictions services; and resources for early detection of mental-health and substance-use disorders among youth.
For more, the government ought to dig out its copies of the 2018 report from the B.C. Centre on Substance Use that recommended a “full, evidence-based continuum of care including building an effective and coordinated addiction treatment and recovery system that has traditionally been lacking.”
That report also singled out the need for youth-specific services and treatment including residential care. It also recommended “recovery high schools” where not only are drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited, treatment and services are part of the curriculum.
Men aged 19 to 59 make up the overwhelming majority of the people who have died of opioid overdoses. But, an average of 18 youths have died in each of the past four years.
The recommendations aren’t only aimed at preventing youth from dying. They’re aimed at providing treatment to prevent their addictions from becoming entrenched.
In addition to the recommendations, the coroner’s report provides a glimpse of the other opioid crisis far away from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Eurchuk knew about harm reduction services, but he didn’t get his drugs tested, didn’t go to safe injection sites, didn’t seek treatment or replacement therapies such as methadone or Suboxone.
He’d started using cannabis in November 2015 when he was 13. After injuring his shoulder wrestling a year later, he began self-medicating, buying hydromorphone from a classmate at Oak Bay High School.
In December 2016, he broke his jaw playing soccer and, after surgery, was prescribed hydromorphone for the pain. Two months later, he had the first of two surgeries on his shoulder and was prescribed another opioid, Tramacet, for the pain.
After reinjuring his shoulder that fall, Eurchuk was given another prescription for Tramacet. He was also suspended from school, accused of selling drugs to classmates.
After a second shoulder operation that October, Eurchuk got a five-day prescription for Oxycodone, followed up by a prescription for Tramacet.
In the final months of his life, Eurchuk was routinely using opioids to the point that when he was hospitalized in early 2018 for a serious infection, he got a day pass and got fentanyl and cocaine while he was out. He went into cardiac arrest in the hospital on his return.
He was home briefly in February before being readmitted under the Mental Health Act. Discharged after a week, Eurchuk was in the emergency room of Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital in March because of decreased consciousness and released after a few hours.
On his final day, Eurchuk bought a two-day supply from a street dealer, used with a friend early in the evening and was heavily intoxicated by the time they parted ways. As the evening wore on, people who saw him described him as everything from fine to agitated to disoriented. He was last seen at midnight.
The teen died on the morning of April 10 at home from a heart attack, fluid in the lungs and aspiration caused by “mixed intoxication” from fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Attempts to revive him with naloxone, chest compressions, suction and a defibrillator failed.
While the government will provide a written response to the coroner’s recommendations in the coming weeks, last summer it committed $2.4 million over three years to addictions and mental health programs.
It has opened four youth detox beds in Victoria. There are eight Foundry Centres across the province providing comprehensive supports with three more being developed. And, this spring, a 20-bed treatment facility in Chilliwack is scheduled to open.
There is no guarantee that better acute-care treatment, earlier interventions and more comprehensive community services will save the lives of every addicted youth or that they would have saved Eurchuk.
Addiction is, after all, a chronic, relapsing condition.
Elliot Eurchuk was just a kid and there are others like him. They deserve the best chance possible to grow up to be healthy adults.
For 10 years, Debbie Aschwanden managed the symptoms of Crohn’s disease with a drug called Remicade.
When the provincial government announced it would no longer fund the drug through Pharmacare, she and about 1,700 patients with inflammatory bowel disease were told to switch to a less-expensive copycat drug before March 5.
For two months after she switched, the Williams Lake insurance broker struggled with “horrible” symptoms that felt like a Crohn’s flare-up or a bad flu.
“I was super sick,” said Aschwanden, who has a 13-year-old son. “I had to miss a few days of work even though I tried to push through.”
She switched to Inflectra first, one of the two biosimilar drugs indicated by the government to replace Remicade. After two infusions, her doctor switched her to another biosimilar called Renflexis, hoping for a better result. So far, she hasn’t had the same symptoms, but she isn’t feeling as healthy as she did while on the original biologic drug.
“After I was diagnosed (with Crohn’s), I was so thankful to find something that helped,” she said. “To have that ripped from under me was really tough. It was like I was back at square one.”
Crohn’s patients were part of a second group of British Columbians who were required to transition their prescriptions to a biosimilar equivalent beginning last year.
In September, the government announced gastroenterology patients across B.C. would have six months to switch their prescription from Remicade to Inflectra or Renflexis.
The news followed a similar announcement in May, when B.C. became the first Canadian province to stop funding three injectable drugs, including Lantus, Ebrel and Remicade, for non-gastroenterology patients. An estimated 20,000 patients were given until Nov. 25 to switch to biosimilar drugs for diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis and several other chronic conditions.
Coverage for the original drugs would only be provided in exceptional cases, decided on a case-by-case basis.
Biosimilars are similar to generic drugs in that they are manufactured after the 20-year patent expires on the original biologics. But they cost 25 to 50 per cent less than the original.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, the province spent $125 million on the three biologic drugs affected by the policy change in 2018, including $84.2 million on Remicade. Since Remicade was approved for sale by the federal government in 2001, the province has spent more than $671 million.
“We know that the use of biosimilars in other countries has worked extremely well in ensuring people get the medication they need, and it’s time we caught up,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said at a news conference in September. “By using biosimilars in B.C., we will be putting about $96.6 million back into health care over the next three years.”
But critics said the financial gains don’t offset the hardship experienced by patients who are sensitive to prescription changes.
“We’ve heard of dozens and dozens of challenges experienced by people in B.C.,” said Mina Mawani, president and CEO of Crohn’s & Colitis Canada.
She said the charity is aware of 140 Crohn’s patients who have applied for an exemption to receive coverage for Remicade, but only two have been approved. Among those denied was a person with Stage 4 cancer who also has Crohn’s disease and someone with a complex history of anxiety. Several nursing mothers are waiting to hear if their exemption requests will be approved.
“I feel disheartened,” said Mawani. “We’ve been told that patients are simply being emotional about switching. But we know they’re not emotional. This is their life.”
She said Crohn’s & Colitis Canada believes biosimilars are a safe and effective treatment for people with inflammatory bowel disease, but patients and doctors should have a choice.
“The issue is not about starting new patients on the biosimilar drugs. It’s about the government forcing people who are stable to make the switch. What does that do to their health, including their mental health?”
Mawani said the government isn’t able to answer that question because it is not adequately tracking the impact of the switch on individual patients.
The Ministry of Health was unable to provide answers to questions about outcomes for people with Crohn’s disease or the number exceptional requests it has received. Material on its website says B.C. spent nine years studying biosimilars before announcing the switch, consulting with a wide variety of physician and patient groups, as well as regional health authorities and Health Canada.
Figures provided by the Ministry of Health shows that as of Dec. 31, 55 per cent of B.C. patients on Lantus had switched to a biosimilar, while 78 per cent on Enbrel and 73 per cent on Remicade for non-gastrointestinal issues had switched, for a total of 11,930 patients.
Gastroenterology patients were given until March 5 to transition from Remicade to Inflectra or Renflexis. As of Dec. 31, 28 per cent, or 529 people out of 1,858, had switched.
Florence Girard, 54, was found dead in a private home on Oct. 13, 2018. An RCMP probe alleged that the victim didn’t receive the necessities of life, such as food, shelter, medical attention and protection from harm, Coquitlam Mounties said in a statement Jan. 29, 2020. PNG
The news of Florence Girard’s tragic death and subsequent charges against her caregivers reminds us that family, friends and neighbours have a critical and irreplaceable role in keeping disabled people safe. While the courts deal with the RCMP charges let’s not make the mistake of relying solely on formal accountability mechanisms. Instead let’s ensure a network of supportive relationships is in place for every vulnerable person in care so that no one ever has to die alone and unnoticed again.
Our comments aren’t wishful thinking. We write this as co-founders and leaders of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN.) We have more than three decades of experience developing support networks for disabled people in B.C. and around the world. One of us has a daughter who, like Girard, has Down syndrome. Research studies back up what we’ve learned. When disabled people have a network of supportive relationships they’re safer, healthier, require less paid services, have a higher quality of life, and their risk of abuse and neglect is dramatically reduced.
Caring networks create safeguards. We aren’t referring to an occasional volunteer visit, but to an intentional and co-ordinated group of family, friends and allies. Network members are companions, watchdogs and advocates. They serve as trustees. They monitor guardianship arrangements. They assist with health care, banking and everyday decisions. Because they’re in a committed, continuing relationship with the disabled person, they know when something is wrong, they spot changes to the person’s health and temperament, and motivated by love they take action to make things better.
The outcry for more formal safeguards is understandable but misplaced. Compare the difference in coverage. An occasional monitoring visit by a government agency combined with a once-every-three-years formal certification process versus a network of friends that is always checking in, visiting regularly and sharing updates with each other.
There are many ways to establish a stable network that lasts. PLAN’s approach is to hire a community connector who works closely with the individual. When there is no family nearby, network members come from neighbours, service clubs, faith groups and people who share similar interests. In our experience most people welcome the opportunity to join with others in a caring network.
We have witnessed network members identify changes in a person’s mental health, detect tumours and arrange for medical care that was missed by service providers. They have found jobs and volunteer opportunities. They have taken up the slack when aging parents or family members weren’t available. They have protected people from being exploited and abused. They have made sure they have suitable clothing and nutritional food. And they have helped people with a terminal illness die in peace and love.
Sadly, most disabled people in care don’t have caring networks. It’s time for the B.C. government to make these relational safeguards a fundamental ingredient of our service-delivery apparatus. Not as a “nice-to-have.” Not as part of another study or investigation. But as essential in keeping people safe as all the formal safeguards combined.
We recommend the B.C. government:
1. Mandate the funding body Community Living B.C. (CLBC) to ensure relational safeguards exist for every one of their clients. This will take a modest investment of money in community groups who aren’t service providers but nowhere as much as implementing yet another system of monitors monitoring monitors, monitoring contracted agencies.
2. Require all relevant government and service-provider agencies to take courses in relational safeguards. This orientation is just as important as safety and health certificates or criminal record checks.
3. Appoint a vice-president of relational safeguards at CLBC. Unless there is a senior position with power and resources nothing will change.
4. Document the difference. The added benefit of relational safeguards is that it results in happier lives for disabled people and reduced program costs. Use the data and any savings as the basis for improving supports for British Columbians with a disability.
We can’t think of a better way to honour Girard’s memory.
Vickie Cammack and Al Etmanski received the Order of Canada for their work with disabled people and their families. They co-authored Safe and Secure — Seven Steps to a Good Life for People with Disabilities. Rebecca Pauls is executive director of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network.
In 2017-18, for-profit operators failed to deliver 207,000 hours of care for which the B.C. government paid them. AlexRaths / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Some corporate-owned, long-term care homes in B.C. are getting money for nothing, while not-for-profits may be getting less than they need for their services to be sustainable.
But the bottom line is that the losers are both vulnerable seniors and taxpayers who are footing the $1.3-billion annual bill.
To be clear, it may be unconscionable, but for-profit operators who run a third of all the long-term homes and beds in B.C. are not breaking any rules. Just as it’s fair to assume that not-for-profits, who account for another third of the total, aren’t deliberately leaving money on the table.
The problem is that the system is broken.
Patients and their families have been complaining for years. On Tuesday, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie clearly set out the evidence in her report, A Billion Reasons to Care, which comes within a few months of Island Health taking over three privately operated homes.
Mackenzie’s funding review is a scorching indictment of the government’s failure to properly manage one of the largest contracting relationships it has with service providers. To some extent, Mackenzie said, the government is handing long-term care operators blank cheques.
She said the rules haven’t kept pace with the fundamental shift in government procurement policy that began 20 years ago when long-term care was contracted out to private operators who were then allowed to opt out of the Health Employers Association of B.C., which once bargained on behalf of all publicly funded, health-care employers.
Rules are non-existent, vague or not uniformly applied. Direct care hours, for example, aren’t necessarily separated out from the hours that care aides spend on food service or housekeeping. Financial monitoring is scant with no requirement for detailed or audited reports.
In 2017-18, for-profit operators failed to deliver 207,000 hours of care for which the B.C. government paid them. Were they fined? No. They got to keep the money.
Meantime, not-for-profit operators delivered 80,000 hours of care more than they were contracted to provide. Those extra hours were paid for either by lower costs in another area or by other funding sources.
It is true that all operators face a staffing crisis that Mackenzie describes as being of epidemic proportions, with nearly 90 per cent of care homes not able to meet minimum staffing guidelines.
But it’s partially self-inflicted. For-profit operators’ wage costs for each hour of direct care is lower across all classifications than the costs at not-for-profits and the homes run directly by health authorities.
Some for-profits are paying care aides, who provide two-thirds of the care, nearly a third less than the industry standard, which works out to $6.63 an hour. Part of the difference is that for-profit operators are more likely to hire part-time rather than full-time workers, which eliminates the need to pay benefits.
Raise the salaries, says Mackenzie, and workers will follow the money.
The government and health authorities should also follow the money. Rather than setting a minimum wage or requiring that all operators pay the industry standard, Mackenzie says to simply end the incentive to not deliver the care. If operators didn’t deliver 207,000 hours of care, they should have been required to give that money back.
But there are no penalties in any of the contracts. Don’t deliver and, ka-ching!, the bottom line suddenly looks a lot better as taxpayers’ money transforms into shareholder profits.
Disturbingly, Mackenzie found that contracts varied both between and within health authorities.
“All spoke to delivery of care,” she said Tuesday. “But none specified the type of care. None outlined any legal requirements to provide the care. And none had explicit penalties for non-compliance.”
Every health authority also had different reporting systems. Different ones allowed expenses to be claimed differently. There were also anomalies between the profit and non-profit operators, including for-profits having surpluses 12 times higher and profits three times higher.
The health authorities allowed for-profit operators to claim building expenses at 20 per cent of their revenues compared to the not-for-profits’ nine per cent. They also allowed mortgage interest rates considerably higher than market rates, double the depreciation rates, unexplained lump-sum payments to contractors working for affiliated companies, unspecified management fees in addition to administrative expenses that are higher than non-profits.
One concern Mackenzie has about non-profits claiming lower building expenses is that they will not be able to upgrade their facilities as they age, meet any new accessibility requirements that may be required, or expand to meet the tsunami of demand from an aging population.
It all needs to change and change quickly before even more public money is funnelled into corporate profits at the expense of vulnerable seniors who aren’t getting the care they need and deserve.
Jack Chieh and Yinnie Wong with their baby boy, born last Friday (Chinese New Year). The couple donate her baby’s cord blood to the cord blood bank at B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre. Handout
Yinnie Wong and Jack Chieh’s six-pound, 13-ounce baby boy — as yet unnamed — was born on an auspicious day, Jan. 24, Chinese New Year, and he’s already doing good in the world.
“Everyone was really happy, it is supposed to be a lucky day,” said Wong.
Although the birth was a planned C-section, Wong had no control over the date hospital administrators chose for the birth. What she did have control over was the choice to donate her baby’s cord blood to the cord blood bank at B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Cord blood is blood that is taken from the umbilical cord and placenta immediately after the birth of a healthy infant. Cord blood is rich in stem cells, and can be used to treat over 80 diseases, including leukemia.
According to Canadian Blood Services, ethnically diverse donors are especially needed because although Stats Canada data shows 67.7 per cent of Canadians consider their ethnic origin to be diverse, only 31 per cent of Canadians with blood in Canada’s stem-cell registry are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Crystal Nguyen, 20, is a former B.C. Children’s Hospital patient whose life was saved by a stem-cell transplant from donated cord blood. Nguyen was first diagnosed with acute myleloid leukemia at age 12. After chemo, she went into remission for almost three years. Then the cancer returned. She was told she needed a bone-marrow transplant.
“When I relapsed I was very confused, it was kind of surreal. The main thing about being told I needed the bone-marrow stem-cell transplant was confusion, fear and anxiety.”
Nguyen is of Vietnamese descent and needed a match to survive. No one in her family was a match, nor was there a stem-cell match in the Canadian cord blood bank, but a match was found thanks to the Canadian Blood Services’ partnerships with 47 international blood banks.
“I was told it came through the international cord blood bank from somewhere very far away,” said Nguyen, who has been in remission since the transplant.
When she learned the stem-cell transplant had been successful, Nguyen, who is now studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse, said it felt too good to be true.
“There was a lot of happiness, joy, excitement. Donating cord blood is such a simple way to save a life.”
Although cord blood can be collected and stored for a fee by private companies and reserved for the donor family’s use, cord blood donated through Canadian Blood Services is available free to the public — whoever needs the match.
Wong didn’t hesitate when her son was born. “I felt like I wanted to do it if it helps someone in the public, and if it could save lives — I would have been very happy to help another child,” said Wong, who is a nurse at B.C. Women’s hospital.
Nurse and clinical researcher Lillian Hung with Caspar, the “PARO”, or artificial intelligence seal being used with dementia patients at VGH. PNG
A fuzzy, baby harp seal named Caspar is making a difference in the care of patients with dementia, thanks to the work of Lillian Hung, a clinical nurse specialist and researcher with Vancouver Coastal Health.
“He is a personal robot, or PARO, with artificial intelligence and because he is white, patients named him Caspar,” said Hung. “When they say its name, it will open its eyes and turn its head and lean toward the patient.”
The US$6,000 “social robot” was funded through a grant by the Woodward’s Foundation, and has been in use for about two years at Vancouver General Hospital. While the therapeutic benefits of live-therapy animals have been well-researched, using real animals with dementia patients in clinical settings presents real challenges, particularly among the frail and elderly. But Caspar seems to be getting the job done.
“We have a lot of older adults with cognitive impairment as part of the trend of the aging population,” said Hung. “When patients with dementia are under stress they might resist the care nurses are trying to provide, so I looked for an evidence-based, non pharmacological approach that could bring down patient stress and provide comfort.”
PAROs have been widely used in nursing-home settings in Germany and Denmark, and, in the U.S., it’s already a Food and Drug Administration-approved medical device covered by insurance when prescribed by a doctor.
Hung wondered if the PARO seal would bring about the same benefits — improved mood, positive social interactions and decreases in anxiety — seen in long-term care homes, when used in an acute-hospital setting.
In a study released in December 2019, Hung found that the robot helped patients with dementia “uphold a sense of self,” facilitated social connections and humanized the clinical setting.
“We had a person who came into the acute medicine unit who had dementia but came in with a cardio condition, and wouldn’t let us do an EKG or blood work, and he wouldn’t speak for three days,” said Hung. “When I brought PARO to him, he began petting PARO and the seal looked at him with his big eyes and the patient started to talk to him. He calmed down and we were able to do the blood work.
“The robot doesn’t judge him, the robot is non-threatening. One client tucked it right under her neck and said, ‘I like it,’ ” said Hung. “It gave her a sense of security.”
Equipped with dual, 32-bit processors, microphones, tactile sensors under the fur, and touch-sensitive whiskers, the robot responds to patients by moving its tail, opening and closing its eyes and leaning toward people that speak to it.
Hung said she would like to see more policy and structural support and medical funding to provide more PAROs to patients in B.C. hospitals.
“One patient said, ‘This is very fragile but there is a certain beauty to things that are fragile,’ ” said Hung. “He was mirroring his situation: He was fragile and he was able to give care to the robot that he couldn’t give to himself and it comforted him.”
Coquitlam Mounties say a woman has been charged with criminal negligence causing death after a woman died in her care. Files / Postmedia News
A Port Coquitlam caregiver has been charged with criminal negligence causing death after a woman died in her care two years ago.
Police began investigating after the 54-year-old woman with a developmental disability was found dead in a private home on Oct. 13, 2018.
The investigation determined that the victim did not receive the necessities of life, such as food, shelter, medical attention and protection from harm, the Coquitlam RCMP said, in a statement, Wednesday.
Astrid Charlotte Dahl, 51, has been charged with criminal negligence causing death, and failing to perform a legal duty to provide necessities.
At the time of the victim’s death, Dahl was in a residential home sharing agreement with Kinsight Community Society. Kinsight is also charged with failing to perform a legal duty to provide necessities.
Both Dahl and the director of Kinsight are expected to appear in court on March 9.
“This is a very sad situation. We know these charges can’t bring the victim back, but perhaps they give a voice to a vulnerable person who couldn’t speak for herself,” said Corp. Michael McLaughlin, a spokesperson with the Coquitlam RCMP.
Kinsight director of adult services Tess Huntly issued a statement saying they were “shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of this individual.”
Huntly did not provide any details about who was in Dahl’s care or what role the society had in the disabled woman’s care.
“The health and safety of people served is our top priority, and we take the trust that has been placed in us to provide care and support very seriously – as it has been throughout our 65-years of providing support in our communities,” Huntly said, in the emailed statement.
Huntley said this is the first time that the death of an individual receiving Kinsight services has been the subject of a police investigation and criminal charges.
Huntley said Kinsight has cooperated with the authorities, and will not comment further because the case is before the courts.
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