February 13, 2016 - 12:00 PM
"I LOOKED AFTER HER WHEN SHE WAS ALIVE AND I'M LOOKING AFTER HER WHEN SHE'S GONE"
KAMLOOPS - When Nancy Bradley and her mother Emily Houston, 84, planned for Houston to move into a senior’s care home, they thought they were sending her to a safer place.
Houston was looking for a better social life and a routine she could stick by. Bradley wanted her mom close by in a place where she could avoid stairs and other safety issues in her home. They did their research and thought they found her new home at Kamloops Seniors Village.
But neither of them considered the potential dangers other patients could pose.
After a two-month stay at the location, Houston was assaulted by a patient with dementia. She died from complications 10 days after the incident.
Putting her mother there in the first place wasn't a decision that came lightly, Bradley says. What she enjoyed most about her mother was her positive attitude. The small Scottish woman enjoyed nothing more than to be surprised with a Tim Horton's coffee and a chocolate glazed donut.
“People say ‘I would never put my mom or my parent into a senior’s home.’ That really hurts because I did try to make it work. You don’t realize what it’s like when you become their care aide, it’s really hard,” Bradley says.
A lot of thought and discussion went into getting Houston into a new home. The two lived together in Bradley’s townhouse for five years and while they enjoyed each other’s company, both felt it was best to regain some independence by living apart.
The dynamic of their relationship had started to change. Bradley, a widow, was already working alone and says her personal life shrunk as she focused on keeping her mother safe in their home. Each of her outings for work or social activities were coated in a sense of guilt. On work days, Houston stayed at home all day with Marley, the family dog, and her week-day social life consisted of a few visits from hired care aides.
There were growing safety concerns, too. Houston's memory was beginning to fail her and she would forget what pills she took. A woman assessing the safety of the home pointed out the two flights of stairs as a potential issue down the road.
“Just considering all that was going on, (a care home) was the best for both of us. I felt sorry for her being all day by herself; I thought she would like that better,” Bradley says.
The two were happy to score a spot at Kamloops Seniors Village after turning down another opening at the Overlander Residential Care centre on the city’s north shore.
“There were four residents in the room with curtains in between them. As soon as I saw it, I said no,” Bradley says.
It was a risky decision because under Interior Health Authority's First Appropriate Bed policy, if a patient turns it down, they can be removed from the waitlist. They got her a different bed but then Bradley’s concerns evolved.
They put her into a ward with dementia patients with a locked door and some restrictions. While the advertisements for the location featured seniors laughing and playing cards, Houston was with patients who could not communicate, Bradley says. While the ward upset her, Bradley says she felt worse when her mother wasn’t bathed for two weeks straight.
“She looked like hell; her hair was plastered to her head. It was degrading to her. I’ve never seen her like that,” she says.
Bradley says a nurse told her they were short staffed, while management said the issue would be dealt with immediately.
“I (felt) guilty that maybe I should have just had her stay with me. But she seemed happy. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t unhappy,” she says.
AN UNWITNESSED ‘FALL’
Despite her reservations, Bradley felt relieved once she learned her mother would move into a more communal living space. Staff made the swap between Houston and another resident, who was better suited to the dementia ward.
But the issues didn’t end there.
Bradley says her mother told her the previous occupant of her room would often return, thinking it was her own.
“They would just escort her back. In fact, one of the times when I went to see my mom they were escorting (the former tenant) back down the hallway and she was crying,” Bradley says.
The woman had even gone through Houston's personal items and found ways to bypass the locked doors.
Then Bradley got the call.
“She said your mom has fallen and we think she has broken her hip,” Bradley says.
Houston’s hip was indeed fractured and she underwent a risky surgery. Bradley says staff told her Houston fell, but her mother was adamant she was assaulted. She had multiple bruises and had a broken finger.
“She was saying ‘I was pushed. The lady took my housecoat, I went after her to get it and we got to the end of the hall and (the woman) punched me and pushed me into the doorframe,’” she says. Houston told Bradley she tried to pull herself up but couldn't.
Bradley says the RCMP watched security footage showing her mother following the woman, but because of the camera angle, an assault was not visible.
WHY SCARE HER? WHY TELL HER SHE’S DYING?
Right after the surgery, Bradley and her four siblings had a meeting with management which didn’t go well.
“It was the worst meeting I ever went to. They were trying to protect themselves. They were talking lawyers and really weren’t sympathetic in the least. They were just so cold. That’s what really made me angry,” Bradley says.
She stormed out.
“I did contact Retirement Concepts in Vancouver and they told me everything had to be dealt with at (the local) level. I was in limbo there, I didn’t have anyone to turn to. I went to Interior Health and asked them to do an investigation since it was a funded bed. Their investigation resulted in that Kamloops Seniors Village did everything right. That was a huge disappointment to me that they didn’t find any issues,” she says.
That changed once Bradley went public and brought her concerns to media.
“That started everything rolling and then I started getting a little bit more cooperation out of people,” she says.
As Bradley worked to get some answers, her mother’s condition worsened. The doctors discovered the aneurism after Houston's complaints of a sore stomach. Her death was imminent.
“Through all this she didn’t know. She asked me once: 'There’s something wrong with me, isn’t there?' I was tempted to tell her, but why scare her? Why tell her she’s dying?"
Houston died in hospice ten days after the assault on June 15, 2015.
JUSTICE FOR EMILY
Coroners classified Houston’s death as a non-culpable homicide, which means the woman who killed her will never face prosecution. Bradley says she’s in complete agreement to not proceed with charges against her as the woman had no concept of her actions.
“I’ve never had any issues with this lady, it’s not her fault. All she wanted to do was go back to her room,” Bradley says.
Despite no formal court case, Bradley now uses her mother's experience as an opportunity to shed more light on the concerns she has about senior's homes.
She recently created a Facebook page titled Justice For Emily to kickstart a dialogue with other families who face similar circumstances. Houston's death is one of 16 similar cases in the province including several from the Interior.
A representative for Retirement Concepts flew to Kamloops to meet with her and apologized.
While Houston is gone, Bradley likes to think she’s still looking after her. The group has created a platform to enlighten others about the process of placing family members in homes, and the unforeseen pitfalls they might face.
“I looked after her when she was alive and I’m looking after her when she’s gone,” she says. “I’m doing this for her and I’m doing it for everyone else’s parents that may be going through this kind of thing and bringing awareness. There’s not a perfect home out there. It’s not just Kamloops Seniors Village — there’s all kinds of places that may be worse. I guess a person really has to do their research. It’s almost like checking out a daycare. You want to make sure that you’re not just dropping them off at some daycare you found in the yellow pages."
Olivia Chang, a spokesperson for Retirement Concepts, says Kamloops Seniors Village staff were receiving training to assist patients with dementia prior to Bradley's death. Technology, including camera surveillance, is continually being upgraded, she says.
"The incident that resulted in injuries to Mrs. Houston and her subsequent passing away was tragic, and we again extend our deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones," Carl Meadows, Senior Director of Operations says in a statement. "The incident involving Mrs. Houston was not the result of too few staff. Our staffing ratios are in line with industry standards and health authority guidelines. Nevertheless, we regularly review our operating procedures and make adjustments if necessary to meed changing circumstances and will continue to do so in the future.
INFOnews.ca has examined patient-on-patient violence in other care homes along with other concerns for seniors. Click on the links below for related reading:
-What can be learned from Vernon's tragic care home homicide
-Summerland retirement home under investigation: senior near death
-Family alleges Kamloops retirement home covered up assault on disabled 75-year-old
-Interior Health may review case after senior receiving home care burned to death
To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016