British Columbia

Layoff notices issued at B.C. hospice that refused to offer medical assistance in dying

A British Columbia hospice that refused to offer medical assistance in dying says it has been forced to issue layoff notices to all clinical staff at its facility in Delta, B.C.

Fraser Health will assume control of the Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta, B.C., on Feb. 26

Workers at the Delta Hospice Society have been issued layoff notices at its facility in Delta, B.C. (Canadian Press)

A British Columbia hospice that refused to offer medical assistance in dying says it has been forced to issue layoff notices to all clinical staff at its facility in Delta, B.C.

The Delta Hospice Society board said in a news release Friday that it deeply regrets "being compelled'' to take the action due to Fraser Health cancelling its contract over its refusal to comply with a provincial policy requiring hospices to provide assisted death.

Board president Angelina Ireland said the 10-bed Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta was a "sanctuary'' for dying people who did not want to be in a facility that provided medical assistance in dying, also known as MAiD.

"These people as Canadians have a right to be in a place where there is not MAiD offered. If people want MAiD, and of course we've never fought that or debated that, we have a facility right next door to us,'' she said in an interview, referring to Delta Hospital.

"Now, what they can't have is an authentic palliative care facility.''

MAiD was passed into federal law in 2016, allowing Canadians who meet strict criteria to choose a medically-assisted death.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced last year the province would withdraw $1.5 million in funding for the DHS effective Feb. 26, 2021, and that operation of the facility would transfer to Fraser Health.

The decision came after a newly elected Delta Hospice Society board voted to stop offering MAiD.

Conflict has been ongoing ever since, with allegations of membership stacking, an effort by the society to become a faith-based organization, citizens of Delta organizing against the current board of directors, and a court battle.

Fraser Health working on transition plan

Fraser Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson said in a statement Friday that the health authority's focus continues to be on the care provided to hospice patients during the final month left in the contract and any transition period that takes place.

"We are working on a transition plan and will have more to share soon,'' she said. "We have made repeated efforts to work with the current society, including the plan for staff. These efforts have been unsuccessful.''

She added that Fraser Health will work with the provider and the union to ensure all hospice staff who received layoff notices from the society will have employment opportunities within the health authority if they want them.

Ireland said she could not comment on the number of employees being laid off or what jobs they do.

A hospice worker, who CBC News has agreed not to name, said staff caught in the middle of the power struggle are now reeling over the termination notices.

"People are really sad and really angry," the worker said. "There are now single moms and single dads about to be out of work."

Chris Pettypiece, a former DHS board member and spokesperson for the group Take Back Delta Hospice, demanded the Delta Hospice Society board of directors resign immediately.

"The DHS board had a responsibility to ensure palliative care services for our community," he said.

"They have first failed to maintain key funding and have now failed in their role as an employer.  We now see their priority is not to save palliative and end of life care in Delta."

Hospice sits on Fraser Health land

Pettypiece said board members opposed to assisted dying "stacked'' the society's membership with people aligned with those views, to elect board members who agreed with them and oust those who did not at an annual general meeting in November 2019.

He was among those who eventually lost their positions on the board.

Pettypiece said Take Back Delta Hospice wants the province and Fraser Health to ensure continuity of care at the hospice. The hospice sits on land owned by Fraser Health and was built using funds raised in the community.

Ireland said it was merely the will of the membership to elect a board that opposed assisted death.

She called on Pettypiece to create his own hospice society that corresponds with his opinions rather than continue to focus on hers.

"This is about the B.C. government destroying a sanctuary for dying patients who want the choice to stay in a palliative care facility where MAiD is not offered."

With files from The Canadian Press