Category Archives: Mental Health

Surviving the Borg

More stories pour in about the crisis in our residential care homes.

No article I’ve written for Focus has provoked so many impassioned calls, emails, posts to my website, and interceptions in the street than my feature about long term care of the elderly (“Who has the Right to Control Your Life?“, January).

Many relatives of seniors said the stories of deteriorating conditions in care homes and people being unfairly stripped of their rights reflected their own experiences. “On Christmas Eve in 2006, my mother was abducted,” described one woman. “[They began] transferring her to different nursing facilities where they were drugging her with so many drugs that she could not lift up her own head…”

Another wrote, “[S]taff have frequently written reports itemizing problems, and the numerous reports are consistently ignored. Continuing issues such as filth-still there; toileting-constant struggle; activities-not very many that actually engage people…”

For these people, seeing the issues publicly aired was heartening.

But many frontline care attendants accused me of being negligently selective in my examples and grossly unfair to them. Continue reading “Surviving the Borg” »

Who Has the Right to Control Your Life?

Caught between archaic, paternalistic laws and deteriorating conditions in care homes, more and more BC seniors and their families are discovering how easy it is for the elderly to lose basic civil rights that we often take for granted. (Originally published in Focus, January 2009.)



We’re here to bust an 86-year-old woman out of a nursing home.

Kim packs Joan’s personal items (some names have been changed to protect anonymity). I survey the quaint room and ask, “Do you like it here?”

Joan replies, “I want to go home.”

Instantly, I see why Joan is in trouble. I’ll soon learn she’s smart and funny, but she looks feeble and vulnerable. Dammit, she looks old. You feel an instinct to reach an arm around and reassure her, “I’ll take care of everything.” You want to take charge.

For Joan, that’s become the problem.

We walk toward the exit. But how hard can it be for a daughter to get her own mom get out of a residential home?

“I thought I could never be shocked again,” Kim says later, while her mother meets with a lawyer. As a health care consultant, Kim thought she’d already seen the worst of health care. “But I’m continually reeling.” Continue reading “Who Has the Right to Control Your Life?” »

IQ Tests to Set 2009 Tax Rates?

When pseudo-scientific nonsense starts becoming law, be very afraid.


I was supposed to find the picture that didn’t fit. Studying three men walking, I circled one with an errant blotch on one shoe. Wrong: one of the men wore a hat.

In retrospect, I’d likely spotted a smudge from the school’s old carbon copier. But wasn’t I still right? In my kindergarten humiliation hatched a mute wariness of standardized, multiple choice tests.

When the BC Liberals emblazoned such tests with the authority of law this July, I could be silent no more. Continue reading “IQ Tests to Set 2009 Tax Rates?” »

VIHA Psychiatrists Criticize VIHA

and the Laurel House saga continues…

Laurel House is safe. It seems. For now.

Six months of closed-door negotiations between the Capital Mental Health Association, Vancouver Island Health Authority, and Laurel House users who staged a sit-in last September ended with a verbal commitment from VIHA that, “Laurel house will not be closed in the foreseeable future,” says Laurel House user-negotiator Kathleen Sumilas.

“It’s absolutely awesome,” she adds, noting that the sudden last minute agreement after six weeks of utter silence from VIHA “was quite unexpected.”

However, as of Focus’ press time, VIHA had provided no details in writing, and had pledged only that the users would be “consulted” about what Laurel House programming would look like. In light of VIHA and CMHA’s past poor record of conducting and respecting consultations, does it cause her concern? Worry? “Yes…” Sumilas responds slowly. “Yes, it does…”

Regardless of the outcome, however, one astonishing fact emerged during the process, with repercussions far beyond this individual issue. Continue reading “VIHA Psychiatrists Criticize VIHA” »