Apr. 7, 2018
Island Health has been in the spotlight for some time, battling “the system”. You get the feeling the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

Speaking of the hand, here’s the tale of a friend of mine who broke her pinky finger on a Saturday. I swear, I didn’t make this up, or embellish even a tiny bit, it really happened.

She went to the emergency department at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital where she received seven stitches (yes, seven) and xrays. She was informed that the finger was broken and it would have to be set by hand, and that a specialist would be in touch to set up an appointment.

Great! That’s how one would expect the system to work, but the story did not end there. My friend did not hear from the specialist by Tuesday of the following week, so she contacted her family doctor. Well, they had no information on her injury and suggested that she call the NRGH emergency department who told her they no longer had the record, and to call her family doctor.

That would normally be called a runaround, but not in this case. She phoned her family doctor again and was told that they had the record but there was no doctor's name attached. She was then advised to call medical records department at the hospital who told her the doctor's last name. 

Great, right? Well not really, there are 13 doctors with that last name and they didn't know which one was the “hand” specialist. She was then connected to the “hand therapy clinic” and was told that doctor practises in Campbell River. They gave her his phone number, which she called.

You guessed it, she got an answering machine. She dutifully left a message and her phone number. By Wednesday she had not got a reply so she made another appointment with her family doctor and was assured they would follow up. Late Friday afternoon she was told the doctor in Campbell River was away till next Monday and they would be in touch on Monday to set up an appointment in Campbell River.

You have to admire her patience, but enough is enough, so her annoyed daughter took her back to the ER. The hand specialist on duty was in surgery at the time, thus not available to see her. Staff changed the dressing (remember seven stitches) and xrayed the finger again. They gave her the name and telephone number of a local hand specialist and informed her that she would hear from his office on Monday to set up an appointment to have her broken pinky set.

That’s where it sits on this developing saga, the book is not closed and the next chapter may unfold or Monday . . . or it may not. No wonder the staff have been complaining about how the system operates.

We’ll see what happens. In the mean time, I wonder if she’d like to watch some Abbott and Costello movies.

UPDATE - She now has an appointment at the hand clinic on Thursday afternoon.

Mar. 18, 2018

When you live by the ocean, emergencies are inevitable – an active search and rescue system is indispensible. Being ready 365 days a year involves a lot of ongoing and challenging training.

Last week, I spent an evening on a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue vessel, getting my orientation after joining Nanaimo Station 27. My role is assisting the station media presence.

Getting on all the gear is an experience itself – water resistant pants, sweater, jacket, flotation vest, gloves and a radio-equipped helmet.

I joined the crew on the G.B. Meynell, a 28-foot open craft built by Titan Boats of Sydney. It is powered by two 225-horse-power Yamaha four-stroke outboards and can cruise at 32 knots with a top speed of 40-plus knots and is loaded with electronics. The equipment includes a dewatering pump, stretcher, first aid equipment, night vision binoculars, spotlights, hypothermia kit and towing equipment.

After leaving the station, with Coxswain Jerry Berry and crew members Claud Green and Tom Forrest, we got a warning we were about to pick up speed. “All secure?” was the call over the in-helmet speakers. If you’ve ever accelerated from zero to 35 knots in a single breath you’ll know the boat has get up and go.

Since it was a training exercise, we toured around Newcastle Island and the ship moorages east of Newcastle and Protection Islands and into Nanaimo Harbour. Two of the crew were training on ship operations and navigation electronics.

Then came a real callout. The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre reported a man in the water north of Nanaimo and asked for rescue personnel to respond. Being already on the water, our boat was the first to respond. After making sure everything was secure, the boat kicked into full throttle, on the way to the location. The JRCC operates under the Canadian Air Division (Canadian Armed Forces) and is manned by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Canadian Coast Guard(CCG).

After about 10 minutes dashing to the scene, the call came to stand down, another vessel from French Creek had responded.

The Meynell patrolled around Five Finger Island area until it was joined by the J. C. McGregor, a Falkins Class with twin Volvo 435-horsepower turbo diesels, with Hamilton jet propulsion. It is a covered boat, with cabin, cruising at 30 knots and a top speed of 40. It is rollover capable and has room for three stretchers and is equipped with an infrared camera.

It was totally dark when the training, involving both craft, was to transfer a stretcher with a mock patient, from the McGregor to the Meynell while stationary. The McGregor had new volunteer members on board, so this was part of their training. It’s not easy to safely transfer something from one rocking boat to the next, even though the water was calm.

Then came the challenge, attempting to transfer the loaded stretcher from one craft to the other with both boats at 10 knots speed. After numerous attempts it became obvious the wake of the boats made it impossible to remain close enough to each other to effect a safe transfer.

Close to three hours later, the Meynell’s part of the exercise was complete while the McGregor remained on the water for more teaching and training in total darkness.


Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 27 operates from its headquarters at Brechin Point with quick and easy access to local waters, with a typical response area covering Nanoose Bay to Dodd Narrows, Silva Bay and beyond.

Nanaimo has many boaters, kayakers, divers, a very active dragon boating community, as well as many campers and hikers who travel to surrounding islands. Sailors enjoy the challenging races that take place around Nanaimo, including the Van Isle 360 and the Southern Straits Yacht Race. In addition, Nanaimo has two ferry terminals and two float plane bases. Station 27 works hard to provide the highest standard of emergency response in this vibrant and active marine community.

Station 27 originated in the early 1990s with a handful of local boaters and divers. In 1992, a fatal marine accident raised awareness of the need for a trained fast-response unit. With a Boston Whaler donated by the City of Nanaimo, the small group became part of the city’s emergency program and in 1998 formed the Nanaimo Marine Rescue Society.

With the vision and hard work of dedicated members, a rescue station was established in 2008 at Brechin Boat Launch.  With further great support from the community, Station 27 bought a Falkins Class Type II jet boat, in 2010.

Station 27 works with local ground Search and Rescue, RCMP, Nanaimo Port Authority, B.C. Ferries, Canadian Coast Guard, and neighboring RCM-SAR Stations. The station has participated in large-scale SAREX events, practicing massive-disaster response.

Nanaimo’s station is an integral part of the community and the 40-plus volunteer members are involved in community events like the Nanaimo Boat Show, the Nanaimo Marine Festival and Bathtub Races, the First Nations Tribal Journey, the Dragonboat Festival, parades and fireworks events, and many Nanaimo Yacht Club events.

View the RCM-SAR Nanaimo website



Mar. 14, 2018

There has been significant gnashing of teeth over the latest B.C. budget, and it relates to the taxation side.

The new payroll tax designed to eliminate Medical Services Plan premiums has not been getting the scrutiny that the real estate speculation  tax has, but it will likely hit all homeowners and businesses because public institution payolls are included in the new tax. Those are facilities that operate on taxpayers’ dollars in the first place, so the government is taxing the taxes we pay. That’s a neat trick but not a new one – the carbon tax comes to mind.

In Nanaimo, that is the city, the Nanaimo Regional District, Vancouver Island University, School District 68 and Nanaimo Regional Hospital now have that added expense. Also included are the payrolls of federal institutions.

Nanaimo pays $554,000 for MSP premiums on behalf of city staff in this budget year.

Next year, the premiums will continue for the city with $550,000 for premiums and $1.08 million on top of that for the new employer health tax, for a total of $1.6 million.

It’s the same story for the other public institutions listed above.

The premiums will disappear in 2020 but the $1.09 million payroll tax will continue from that point on, basically double what it cost for MSP premiums.

Next year’s city budget, which has to be finally approved by May, will have to include the $1.08 million additional tab, so the provisional budgets will likely have to be revised before final submission. In round numbers, each $1 million represents about one per cent in taxes.

Keep in mind, your tax bill also includes the school district and the Regional District with their own increases, on top of what the city requisitions. You get the idea where this is going.

Merv Unger is a retired journalist and former Nanaimo City councillor.

Mar. 11, 2018

Our society is loaded with do-gooders – in the complimentary sense – and that’s what may destroy us in the end.

Following social media you quickly find there is great concern among our fellow citizens about the awful homelessness and opioid crisis. Everyone wants to help, whether they have good ideas or are totally outside the realm of possibility.

What matters is that they care, no matter how noble but hopeless their cause.

In the meantime politicians, in their desire to fix the problem, have their hands tied in what they are able to do. There have been countless efforts to provide housing, to set up safe injection sites, but none of those will solve the problem. Those are simply Band Aids over a gushing wound.

Among the social media suggestions are ones that call for compelling the victims to take treatment, to put them into facilities where they can get help – a roof over their heads, a warm, dry bed, meals and medical treatment they need.

That could go a long way to help many of the people who are the victims of homelessness and drug addiction, many due to mental illness, either as the cause or as the result.

Past governments in British Columbia shut down this type of facilities, as they put it, “to integrate them into society.” There no partisan political blame, it was started by one party and instituted by another when government changed. It appeared to save a lot of money.

Much of that integration eventually wound up on the streets, and that in large part is the root of today’s problems.

Granted, the present government has committed to reopening at least part of the Riverview facility in Coquitlam. That’s somewhere along the way, it’s no instant solution and if we’re lucky will take care of part of the problem.

That gets me back to the root problem with some of the suggestions from the public – wanting to compel people into treatment for mental health and drug abuse issues. It all goes back to the Charter of Rights, a set of rules we cherish as a society.

It raises the issue of where rights start and end for the people we are trying to help. Countless people on social media have pointed out that we can’t order people out of public areas, police and social services are helpless, and it’s due to exactly those rights that are spelled out in the Charter. It is clearcut, we cannot compel anyone to go into treatment if the victim is unwilling. The courts can only sentence people to prison terms, but prisons are not equipped to handle their needs.

The question we have to ask is when should an individual’s rights be curtailed for his or her own good? The mentally ill and drug abusers don’t necessarily have the capacity to make rational decisions. At what level does society decide this question and amend the Charter of Rights to make allowance “for your own good.”

Homeless shelters and injection sites are not solving the problem, they are making things worse. We need solutions rather than temporary fixes which don’t work. I am not advocating for any particular solutiion, but raising a question all of us should be addressing.

Merv Unger is a retired journalist and former Nanaimo city councillor, with responsibility for a Nanaimo housing strategy which created about 150 units for vulnerable people.