The people are wonderful but the system is broken.
That is the opinion of Salmon Arm resident Ruben Taylor, who says the journey to getting his spouse, Josie Lofting, into a local health-care facility was a nightmarish ordeal.
It is one Interior Health officials have invited him to discuss with them in order to examine, and improve if necessary, the service patients receive within the health authority.
For the past 10 years, Taylor has shared his life with Lofting.
“We had a nice life until three years ago when she started showing signs of dementia,” he says, noting her condition deteriorated rapidly recently until he could no longer cope on his own. “I was sleepless, at the end of my rope. At first, it meant helping her out with memory but she became a wanderer and I didn’t have enough eyes.”
Lofting’s doctor advised Taylor to contact Community Care but says he was told if his 62-year-old spouse could dress, feed and bathe herself, she did not meet criteria for assistance – something IH disputes.
On Saturday, Sept. 16, Taylor made, what he considers to be, a mistake he will regret for the rest of his life. He took his spouse to Shuswap Lake General Hospital. But when Lofting was resistant to being admitted, he was told she could not be forced to stay against her will.
On leaving the hospital, Lofting refused to get in Taylor’s car and walked away on her own. A frightened Taylor called 911, only to experience agonizing delays in getting help because the local RCMP detachment is closed on weekends and calls are routed through to Kelowna.
“Sometime later I received a call from the police that they had found her and taken her to the hospital…” Taylor says. “The doctor on call, fortunately, saw the need for protection and arranged for Josie to be admitted under the Mental Health Act. Finally, I thought, my loved one was on the path to the care she required and deserved.”
Taylor was horrified when his spouse was placed in the “safe room,” a small, spartan space with a mattress on the floor, a stainless steel toilet and sink, one chair and an over-bed table.
“There was nothing to indicate the room was not a jail cell. Understandable I suppose, to accommodate someone violent and/or at risk of injuring themselves or others or wandering away,” he says, noting his distress at seeing her there. “Assuming this was a very temporary arrangement, I felt it would be tolerable for a few hours. I stayed with her much of that day, with the promise that she would be out of there very soon and we just had to be patient.”
But patience thinned and anger and regret grew as days stretched into a week with Lofting still in the safe room and Taylor being told if he tried to take her to Vernon himself, he would be at risk of police involvement because of the terms of the Mental Health Act.
“I’ll never recover from it, let alone her; to walk into that hospital and see her fists banging on the windows, and saying ‘Help me, get me out of here,’” Taylor says, noting if he had known there are no “proper” facilities in Salmon Arm, he would have driven Josie straight to Vernon hospital himself.
“I was in tears all the time; she was in tears and angry.”
Peter du Toit, health administrator for Thompson Cariboo Shuswap Acute Care, says IH is very sorry to hear about the patient and what has happened here and in her journey through the health-care system.
“I can confirm we are taking every situation seriously to see how we can improve on the services we deliver,” he says. “Putting patients into safe rooms is determined very much by the care plan that exists for them.”
Du Toit says patients are only placed in the room to make sure they themselves are safe, cannot hurt themselves, or get away.
“We try to keep the time as short as possible while we look for the best options and the best level care,” he said, pointing out doctors on call in Salmon Arm would have been working with a psychiatrist in Vernon but the process can take time. “We have to make sure we do it right so we don’t have to transfer people more than once.”
Taylor says he cannot believe that there is no other safe room in the hospital. He was not impressed when several days into the ordeal he was advised his wife had been transferred to a room with a licensed practical nurse in attendance around the clock.
“Well, thanks for small blessings, but about seven days late, don’t you think?” he asks.
Finally on Friday, Sept. 23, Lofting was transferred to Vernon Jubilee Hospital and, after two days of psychiatric assessment, was placed in a secure ward until she could be transferred to Hillside Village in Salmon Arm.
Taylor says his grief is not with the doctors and IH staff but with the way care is provided.
“Everyone is doing their best within a system that doesn’t work; they did everything right, but they could not find a way to get my loved one from Salmon Arm and she had to spend eight days and seven nights in that hole,” he says. “I can’t emphasize more the purpose and importance of exposing these missing pieces of our health-care system.”
Du Toit says commuity care services are definitely available in Salmon Arm, with IH trying to match clients with appropriate caregivers.
“I don’t know specific details, but I know they are offered,” he says. “Together with the patient’s husband, I would like to do further investigation to see where we can improve.”