August 22, 2013 - 8:45 AM
"WE BLAME (IHA) COMPLETELY"
VERNON - A Kamloops woman is calling for changes at Interior Health after learning that one patient killed another in a dementia care ward in Vernon last week.
Vera Shippobotham, 75, says clearly nothing has changed since her own husband was killed after being assaulted by another patient in Kamloops just last month. Since going public with her story, she's been contacted by numerous people with similar tales.
"It was shocking to no end," Shippobotham says of the incident in Vernon. "I said oh no, not again. It was so close to the same thing."
Authorities remain guarded on the details of Sunday's homicide at the Polson Special Care Facility, which provides care to individuals whose dementia is complicated by behavioural or psychological issues. John Furman, 95, has been charged with the murder of his 85-year-old roommate and sent to Kamloops for a psychiatric assessment to determine if he can be found criminally responsible for the death.
Shippobotham's husband Jack died in June after succumbing to injuries sustained three weeks earlier when he was attacked by another patient at the Overlander care facility in Kamloops. In the weeks after her husband's death, Shippobotham found out the man had an aggressive history, yet she insists the situation wasn't his fault.
"We don't blame the man at all," she says. "He wasn't responsible for his actions, the officials at IHA are for letting it happen. They knew he was dangerous. We blame them completely."
She says her husband never should have been quartered alongside someone known to be aggressive.
"I'm not a doctor or a psychologist. I'm just an ordinary person that trusted the system," she says. "They assured us he was safer in there than at home. He was anything but."
Shippobotham would like to see locks installed on patient's doors, better supervision and higher staffing at care homes. At the Overlander, some of these have already come. Locks installed on the outside of rooms allow residents to leave, but prevent unauthorized people from getting in. Shippobotham has also heard that the care home has brought on more staff.
"The staff came to us (anonymously) after Jack died. They said please, you've got the floor, help us. They didn't have a voice," she says.
Staff employed by Interior Health can't speak publicly about their concerns because of a "gag-order", the chair of the BC Nurses Union says. Through the union though, they've been voicing concerns.
"We're hearing from long term care and mental health workers that assaults seem to be on the rise," Tracy Quewezance says. "The overall theme is that these facilities don't have enough adequately trained staff."
She says Interior Health has been replacing RNs and LPNs with care aids who don't have the training to notice when a patient is escalating into dangerous behaviour.
"Augmenting with care aids is fine, but you can't replace an RN with four years of training with a care aid that can get certified in four months," Quewezance says. "Ultimately, it's going to be the patients and the staff that suffer."
Many mental health facilities now require specialized training due to the unique demands of the field.
"I don't know what the required qualifications are at the Polson Special Care Unit, but in many places it's mandatory because of the type of clients they're dealing with."
She also says that when caring for those with mental health problems, the normal ratio of caregivers to patients doesn't apply.
"It's not necessarily how many patients you have, it's what kind of care they require," she says. "If you miss the signs, your client can be escalating and you don't even know it."
Lots of close monitoring—especially when new roommates are introduced as was the case with Furman—and private rooms can help prevent quarrels from getting out of hand, Quewezance says.
But improvements can't seem to come quick enough to prevent another death, Shippobotham says, pointing to the Vernon incident.
"It left me somewhat speechless to think they hadn't moved faster to make changes," she says. "Terry Lake (Minister of Health) has said he's going to appoint an advocate for dementia patients, hopefully in the fall, to address this problem. We feel good about that happening."
She says pressuring the province to make changes is all she can do as she mourns the passing of her husband.
"To see my husband die this way, it didn't have to be so brutal. He didn't have to suffer," she says. "If we can't bring him back or take away the pain of his death, we can at least try to help someone else from going through the same thing."
"It can't go on this way. We could be in there ourselves one day."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013