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Coroners report sheds light on Vernon care home death

John Furman, 95, (left) and William May, 85, (right).
Image Credit: Contributed
August 16, 2016 - 9:00 PM

VERNON - The B.C. Coroners Service has ruled a high profile care home death three years ago in Vernon was a homicide. 

William May, 85,  died Aug. 19, 2013 after being attacked by his roommate, John Furman, at a care facility for patients with advanced dementia and major behavioural issues. Furman was initially charged with murder, but eventually found unfit to stand trial due to his mental state. The decorated war veteran passed away at a psychiatric ward in Kamloops in 2014.

Furman was indeed in a delusional state when he killed his roommate, according to a coroner’s report on May’s death released to the public this week. Coroner Margaret Janzen describes how nurses at the Polson Special Care Unit heard a noise around 11 p.m. and found May lying with his head at the foot of his bed, while his roommate stood over him with a blood-covered shelf from a wardrobe. Janzen’s report does not explicitly name Furman, but refers to an unnamed roommate.

When nurses entered the room, he was highly agitated and speaking angrily.

“He was not making sense and was referring to bunkers and suggesting the nurse was ‘one of them,’” Janzen says in her report.

May was a longtime resident of the unit, while Furman was relatively new. The pair shared a room for just eight days before the attack and there were apparently no red flags to warn of what would happen.

“Between when he moved in and the time of the incident, there were no recorded incidents of aggression between Mr. May and his roommate,” Janzen says.

Furman had a care home team consisting of a case manager, social worker, family physician, psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse. He was diagnosed with severe dementia and admitted to the Polson Special Care unit with the intention of moving him to residential care if the assessment was satisfactory.

“He was seen by his care team psychiatrist a few days after his admission and displayed no signs of aggression,” Janzen says. “He was confused about where he was and expressed a desire to go home.”

She notes he was a member of a special forces team during the Second World War and was involved in hand-to-hand combat.

The B.C. Coroners Service is responsible for investigating all unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths in the province. It makes recommendations to improve public safety and prevent death in similar circumstances.

In this case, May’s death was ruled a homicide, however Janzen notes the term is neutral and does not imply fault or blame. She makes no recommendations.

The B.C. Nurses Union has previously commented that assaults at care homes are on the rise, and insists bolstered staffing levels, more training, and increased resources are needed to keep patients and staff safe. 


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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