Deaf, blind patient kept in supply room
December 21, 2022
SAINT JOHN, NB – Karen Totten was shocked to find her mother, Irene MacNeill, 88, in a supply room when she visited her at the Saint John Regional Hospital. She said her mom was ‘stripped of dignity,’ and a strung-up bedsheet was all that offered her any privacy. She had to wear sunglasses to shield her eyes from the harsh lights, which couldn’t be turned off.
Totten first went to the floor and bed where she usually found her mom, only to discover somebody else in her place. Fearing the worst, Totten rushed to the nursing station. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what happened to my mother? Where is she? Nobody called me,’” she said.
“They said, ‘Oh, we had to move her because this person came up from emerge’ … and they took me over to where she was – and it was the friggin’ supply room.”
Totten was angry and hurt.
“When you’re deaf and you’re blind and you can’t walk, you need better care than that.” Her mother had no bell if she needed to call for help and her bed wasn’t plugged in, so she couldn’t even sit up to eat or drink, she said.
“I mean, I know my mother’s old. I get it, and I know that her life is short. But if she would have died in that room, I don’t know what I would have done because they couldn’t have got in there to do anything to help her.”
CBC News requested an interview with Horizon Health Network, which oversees the Saint John hospital. In an emailed statement, Greg Doiron, vice-president of clinical operations for the network, said he could not comment on a specific case. But “in situations where our hospitals are at or overcapacity, Horizon may utilize non-traditional care spaces in order to ensure all patients can be treated and safely cared for,” he said.
Out of frustration, Totten posted about her experience on social media, including photographs that show her mother in her bed, dwarfed by shelving units stacked with clutters of various medical supplies and flannel sheets. She also posted a short video of the scene.
Totten said her father, John MacNeill, 90, cried when he saw his wife of 65 years in a storage closet. “Not out loud. I just looked over and he had tears running down his face,” she said, fighting back tears. “I feel like I’m not taking care of her, you know? I feel like the whole system let them down.”
Based on the comments her Facebook post received, she’s not alone, she said. She described the stories as “heartbreaking” and “horrible.”
Among them: “I went back and begged. I begged multiple times before being seen by a doctor. My [five]-year-old ended up needing emergency throat surgery. What if I had sat there like I was told?”
“My mother was given a blood transfusion in the hallway. She was also told to use a bedpan should she need to use the washroom while in the hallway,” read another.
Totten doesn’t know how long her mother was in the storage room and says the nurses, who were apologetic and seemed embarrassed, moved her to a regular room later that day. But she says this is bigger than just her situation. She has contacted Horizon’s patient advocate, the officer of the seniors’ advocate and written to several government officials, including Health Minister Bruce Fitch.
“There’s people in big-paying jobs and they need to fix this and they’re not. We have people in our government that are supposed to be helping and they’re not. Like, what are they doing?”
Greg Doiron, vice-president of clinical operations for Horizon, did not say how often ‘non-traditional care spaces’ are used or what steps the regional health authority is taking to address overcrowding. “Although not ideal, this is a measure hospitals commonly use in instances where capacity is limited,” Doiron said.
Patients or families with concerns over the care being provided are encouraged to contact Horizon’s patient representative services, he added.
During a media briefing on the triple threat of the flu, respiratory syncytial virus, referred to as RSV, and COVID-19, Doiron said Horizon hospitals are all reporting occupancy rates above 95 per cent. Emergency departments are seeing a high number of patients presenting with severe respiratory illness symptoms, he said.
The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment about what specifically it’s doing to get seniors like MacNeill, who are in hospital awaiting a nursing home bed, into long-term care homes.
The number of New Brunswick seniors waiting to get into a nursing home has reached a record high of 833 as of November, according to Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights. Of those, 483 are in hospital. That’s up from 782 and 455 in October, figures from the Department of Social Development show.
The Department of Social Development “understands the difficulties and challenges with long wait times and is dedicated to working with multiple partners to explore all solutions, like recruitment at the national and international levels,” said spokesperson Rebecca Howland.