Paul Caune accepting the Courage To Come Back award
By Paul Caune
September 27th, 2021
On the 14th anniversary of his escape from George Pearson Centre, civil rights activist Paul Caune argues that Vancouver Coastal Health's decision to rename the notorious long-term facility misses the most important point.
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The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCH) announced that it has decided to rename George Pearson Centre (GPC), a 69-year-old Long Term Care (LTC) facility that it will close in five or six years.
What to name GPC is irrelevant. Why? Because the most important fact about GPC is that the 114 disabled voters who live there have no power. The horrific consequences of this fact have been described in the media and on BCDisability.com .
Some of the disabled voters who live at Pearson:
• Have been bullied by other residents with addictions and physical disabilities
• Have been bullied by drug dealers invited to the facility
• Get bad food
• Get bad health care
This has been reported twice on the front page of the Vancouver Sun, once on the second page of the Vancouver Sun, and on CBC Vancouver Radio, News1130, CityTV, CTV News and CKNW over the last 20 months .
Michael Lee, the BC Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Langara (in which GPC resides), described the dangerous situation at the LTC facility in the legislature last year on behalf of some residents' families.
This led to a meeting between these families, Mr. Lee and Minister of Health Adrian Dix in which he was told in great detail about the bullying of residents and the bad care they get at GPC.
For decades Pearson residents have asked the Ministry of Health, then the BC Rehab Society, and then VCH, for basic improvements, such as:
• To have a shower more than once a week
• To be able to get out of bed more than once a day
• To have bowel routines that don’t force them to stay in bed all day
• The right to refuse care from nurses whom they believe are abusive
• Management to stop the theft of residents' property by GPC staff
This is a summary of evidence that the media, disability organizations and the mainstream political parties could find with a little diligence and then analyze. The evidence forces me to conclude that GPC is a Procrustean bed for the disabled voters trapped inside it.
Disabled voters are trapped inside GPC because of the “trade-offs” made by the BC Social Credit, NDP and Liberal parties when they are in power.
These trade-offs have created an inflexible home support system and the scarcity of affordable, truly accessible housing which has forced thousands of disabled voters—who could live in their communities with the proper supports—into the nightmare that is BC's LTC system.
"We know there are people in long-term care that could be cared for at home if we had a more responsive health-care system," said the Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie when asked by CTV News to comment on the case of Pearson resident David von Holtum.
Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says BC should be doing much more to make home care an option
It's not corporate greed that's made Pearson bad; it has never been run by the private sector. GPC has the most direct care hours per patient per day of all of the publicly-funded LTC facilities in BC: 5.50 hours of direct care per patient per day 365 days of the year.
It has the biggest budget of BC's publicly-funded LTC facilities, over $14 million a year. And VCH has a budget of $4.1 billion. It's not the private sector or lack of money which is to blame for the bad care disabled voters suffer in GPC.
It's bad because the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must. The disabled voters trapped in GPC are in a government institution where there is little accountability.
Repeatedly residents and their families have complained about this, and regardless of which party is in power, the government turns its back on these voters.
No resident of BC's LTC facilities has any power, except to kill themselves. Some disabled voters are glad they now have the right to die with dignity by physician-assisted suicide.
No resident of BC's LTC facilities has any power, except to kill themselves
Some think this right to physician-assisted suicide puts them on a slippery slope. But all disabled voters want to live with dignity and, if need be, they want public services that enable their independence.
I know of no disabled voter who wants public services that violates their freedom and dignity. More than one former resident of GPC has told me they will kill themselves if the government tries to force them to live in the LTC facility again.
In the early 1970s the BC Social Credit government decided to close the Woodlands Institution for citizens with developmental disabilities. Woodlands by its very nature was bad for the disabled citizens who suffered there. It was not replaced by a new hell; it was replaced by independent community living.
Paul with his mentor Barb Westfield, a former Woodlands and GPC resident, during the final demolition of the Woodlands building in 2011
Many of the disabled citizens who escaped Woodlands have thrived because they don't live in LTC facilities. This is the answer to the question of what to do when we are confronted with the horrors of George Pearson Centre.
The first thing the government did after it decided to close Woodlands was to stop putting more disabled voters into the institution.
This is considered by the experts to be best practices for “deinstitutionalization” (which is a gobbledygook word coined by bureaucrats that means “the liberation of disabled citizens from hell-holes created by the government”). VCH knows stopping admissions to GPC immediately is best practices.
VCH decided in 2014 to close GPC maybe five or six years from now. 44 of the 114 residents are supposed to be moved out of GPC in March 2022.
But VCH—which has declared itself “an unstoppable force for good”—refuses to stop putting disabled voters into GPC. This decision of VCH to reject best practices means under their management disabled voters will continue to suffer the cruelties of GPC for years to come.
The late David Hingsburger , a great Canadian advocate for disability services, had a saying that best sums up the importance of what will be the new name of the 69 years old LTC facility at 700 West 57th Avenue in Vancouver:
“No matter how much mayonnaise you put on chicken shit, it will never be chicken salad.”
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!