George Pearson Centre Is a Zombie

By Paul Caune and Victor Schwartzman 
Posted Jan 27, 2012

For sixty years, like a zombie from George Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead, the George Pearson Centre, a 126 bed nursing home for adults with disabilities in Vancouver, B.C., has eaten the freedom and dignity of British Columbians with disabilities. Despite years of promises of reform it is a prison rather than a home. 

Originally founded in 1952 as a sanatorium for people infected with TB, Pearson quickly became an institution also housing people who needed iron lungs because of complications related to Polio.  Thankfully, within eight years, cures were discovered for both TB and Polio. But the undead institution continued to shamble on.

A new life for the undead institution was found in 1965, when the Government of B.C. shut down three decrepit homes for so-called “incurables” and placed the residents in Pearson.  Since then, the entire Province has used Pearson as a dumping ground for adults with serious disabilities.   

In the early 1970s, the Government made the strategic decision to liberate (deinstitutionalize) children and adults from BC’s ghastly institutions (such
as the Woodlands School in New Westminster). For unknown reasons, the residents of Pearson, a group people with serious cognitive and disabilities, were not included.  At its peak, Pearson was “home” to over 300 residents.  Currently there are 126 residents. 

There is a long trail of reports from mainstream media, academics, advocacy organizations supporting concerns about Pearson, even including oblivious admissions from civil servants.  The reports and admissions reveal a pattern of abuse, bullying, degradation, neglect, mediocrity and incompetence. 

These reports also reveal that most of the residents of Pearson never wanted to live there and want to get out of it as soon as possible.  For more information on this information, please go to 

Why is it reasonable to write that Pearson is a prison rather than a home?  Are not the Pearson residents people who suffer from extremely serious physical and/or cognitive disabilities, and who could not live on the “outside”?  Is not an institution such as Pearson necessary?  And is it not necessary to run it in a certain way, especially in these days of budget cutbacks when people without stock options are lucky to get anything? 

As Paul Caune says, “We are all entitled to our own opinion, not our own facts.”   

Pearson Life v. Decent Life 

Paul Caune, Executive Director of Civil Rights Now! (
describes himself as a former inmate of Pearson.  “I will demonstrate that the only residents of Pearson who get good care are those who do not live there. 

I will demonstrate that by comparing the facts of life at Pearson with the facts of life where I live now.  Both Pearson and my apartment are in the same
city.  They are funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. 

“We start with life at Pearson, and then go to my apartment. These are the facts, taken from

  • Pearson residents get a shower only once a week.
  • Staff decide what the residents’ bowel routines will be.
  • Most residents have one to three roommates; there is very little privacy.
  • All residents are under 24/7 surveillance, as dictated by the medical model.
  • Residents lose the person-with-disability pension of $700-900 a month because they live in a ‘hospital’, so their disposable income is reduced to $95 month.  That $95 is all they have for a telephone, toiletries, transportation, entertainment, clothes, etc. 
  • Residents cannot get insurance against theft.  Insurance companies say there is so much theft  they won’t insure residents.  Vancouver Coastal Health refuses to take responsibility for residents’ property which is stolen. Theft of residents’ property, most often likely by staff, is believed to be widespread.   
  • People are forced into Pearson because of the lack throughout B.C. of affordable, accessible housing with the proper personal supports attached, and not because of medical need. 
  • Residents are exposed to death or impairment from super bugs and medical error and other dangers related to the high density population.    
  • Pearson mixes people who have cognitive impairments with people who have physical disabilities as if they had the same needs. 
  • No matter what harm a staff person causes a resident, no one ever seems to be fired.  There seems to be no discipline of staff although staff routinely punish residents for not following the rules, written and unwritten. Residents have no choice which staff provide them personal care, even if they feel the staff in question is dangerous.
  • Pearson residents are allowed out of bed once a day.  If they go back to bed for whatever reason, staff will not get them up again that day from bed.  
  • The food was not horrible in my time there but was not great.  The problem is that it is your only choice is from A or B on the menu and your choices must be made two weeks in advance.
  • Residents lose their civil right against unreasonable search and seizure because Pearson is the property of Vancouver Coastal Health. Residents’ rooms and property (but not themselves) can be searched at the discretion of Pearson managers by the private security guards on contract with Vancouver Coastal Health.
  • Residents wheel-chairs, even if they own them, can be taken away from them and adjusted without their consent at the discretion of Pearson’s Occupational Therapists.
  • Residents in effect lose their General Practitioners because each ward has an attending physician.  A resident’s  own GP will not be given admitting privileges.
  • Residents are afraid to complain about the quality of care or the ongoing thefts because of concerns about retaliation from management and staff on whom residents are dependent for every daily need.”   

Paul continues: “Now compare all that to where I am living now.  My disability has not changed and the care I require remains complex.  I live in same city and my care is funded by same Health Authority.  Yet I have:  

  • Sole occupancy of a 700 square foot apartment. 
  • The apartment was designed for accessibility.  There is an accessible washroom, shower and large balcony.  The design is open, with a lot of light.   
  • I have a full kitchen, including granite countertops, a gas stove and all the major appliances, including a washer and dryer. 
  • My rent is subsidized. 
  • I live in a regular building with a variety of tenants.  The building is in a good neighbourhood that includes private homes and convenient services. 
  • Because I do not live in Pearson I get the Person With Disabilities pension.  I use part to pay my rent, the rest I spend at my discretion.  
  • I get to choose what I eat every day–it is all my choice.  
  • My friends and family come and go when we want. 
  • I come and go when I want.  
  • I get a shower every day.
  • I can get out of bed more than once a day.  
  • When I was concerned about some workers being a danger to me, they were all removed from my team the very same day. 
  • I don’t have to share aides during the day.  At night I share a worker with six other people.
  • No one forces me to take medications I do not want.  I decide who my family doctor is. 
  • In Pearson I had bladder infections and skin problems.  I did not have those problems before Pearson and have not had them since.   
  • In Pearson I was physically abused and subjected to a violation of the Health Care Consent Act.  Here, I am free.  I am not under the thumb of a system whose current CEO, Dr. David Ostrow, recently admitted has had unresolved issues for decades.”

Pearson can have a zombiefying effect on its prisoners. A recent investigation by the BC government discovered that slightly over 50% residents in BC’s nursing homes are on anti-psychotics. Pearson is a long-term care facility, so it must be included in this statistic. This investigation can be read here 

The BC government in this report stated it was unable the determine the extent to which front-line staff in nursing homes meet their legal obligation to get genuine informed consent from residents or their legally-recognized medical decision makers. Are the Pearson front-line staff and doctors obeying the relevant informed consent laws? The BC government doesn’t know.

The issue here is chemical restraints—using medications to sedate or punish patients for the convenience or revenge.  It is not known how many Pearson residents on anti-psychotic medications do not have a genuine mental illness or dementia. Most of the residents of Pearson are not seniors and do not have dementia or Alzheimer’s, and yet anecdotally many seem doped-up.  Apart from the ethical issues of sedating people to make them easier to manage, there are reasonable
concerns based on rigorous research findings about the dangerous side effects such drugs can also have. 

Paul Caune knows of three cases where Pearson residents who did not have mental illnesses or dementia were put on antipsychotics so strong they were unable to communicate with their families.  When the families complained, their concerns were brushed off by the attending physician.  On their own, the families
found alternatives, although they had to fight the Pearson doctor to do that.  Why were such strong doses given?  In two of the cases, the nurses complained that the resident was using the call bell too much. 

This happened on Paul Caune’s ward while he was a resident at Pearson from 2005 to 2007.  “Anti-psychotic medications should not be forced on someone simply because that person is a pain in the ass or is calling for help too often in the opinion of an over-worked, pissed-off LPN who most likely has turned a blind eye to abuses of residents inflicted by her peers,” Paul says. 

If Paul’s feelings are very strong, that is because he lived at Pearson himself and saw the ongoing problems firsthand. 

Obviously, for decades, the quality of care for people with significant disabilities incarcerated in Pearson has been a low priority for the BC Government.

It wastes about $10 million a year to run Pearson instead of investing that money into innovative housing for people with disabilities.  The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority concedes that the physical plant is deteriorating, yet it continues to put additional residents into this degrading institution. 

The plans for Pearson are in the same state as the facility.  Vancouver Coastal Health has admitted that it has let certain issues at Pearson remain unresolved for decades.  For example, there was always talk about making Pearson more of a “home”.
  In 2003 Vancouver Coastal Health committed to make Pearson an “Eden” site.  “Eden” is a “philosophy” intended to turn Pearson into less of a hospital/prison.  Eight years later and the only progress on Eden is the
wards have been given silly names instead of numbers.  No one has even been hired to run the Eden at Pearson.

“So what can we conclude from these facts?” Paul asks   “If our society wants to give people with disabilities a ‘home like environment’ and ‘good quality care’ then do not put them in Pearson.  Instead, create more housing like the one I currently enjoy.  Liberate the prisoners and then put a bullet in the head of George Pearson Centre the zombie!”