'SHE COULD HAVE GONE FROM ANY ONE OF HER ILLNESSES," DAUGHTER SAYS, 'BUT SHE BURNED ALIVE."
KAMLOOPS — A series of government-funded senior care failures and one last cigarette killed Matilda ‘Tillie’ Olineck, her family says.
Jeanne and Jackie Olineck — Tillie’s daughters — were cleaning up their mothers apartment at the Glenfair Complex downtown this afternoon, the day after their mother died, Aug. 25. They packed her knitting, her crafts and family photo albums into bags while they sidestepped around the burn marks, some of which are from previous incidents.
“She was a heavy-duty smoker,” Jackie says. She points at another burn spot on the carpet. Jeanne says they tried everything they could to prevent their mother from smoking in the house, but her mother’s drive for independence meant she continued smoking indoors - a practice allowed when she moved into the complex 20 years ago.
The sisters move some of the items outside where neighbours wait like vultures. They ask Jeanne what’s for sale and she calmly tells them to come back later while Jackie bites her tongue.
Tillie, 72, suffered from a host of health issues - primarily dementia which plagued her short-term memory. She couldn’t remember if she took her medication, what she had for breakfast or if she even ate that day at all. She was constantly tired, Jeanne says. The family says she fell asleep in her chair with a lit cigarette.
While she had care aides to take care of her, Jeanne says her mother often refused service which came to her apartment four times a day.
“It would take them five minutes to check on her,” Jackie says. “She had the mental level of a child."
When she would refuse, Tillie would go without trips to the washroom, bathing, medication or food. She would remain in her chair from morning until night when a care aide would put her to bed.
Jeanne says she even wrote a note to care aides asking them to not allow her mother to refuse service, but the note went ignored.
“I hope that there’s some changes to people with dementia who keep saying ‘no,'” Jeanne says.
While they worried about their mother’s care, Jeanne said she tried all avenues to get their mom placed in a care home, but she continued to pass fitness assessments.
“They asked her what year it was and she told them 1973. Then they gave her a little hint and told her it started with a two and she’d up and say 2015,” Jeanne says. “I said ‘she’s not safe. Look at her clothes - they’re burnt.’”
Tillie’s case failed to show authorities that she was a risk to herself, Jeanne said. She adds even if the risk was proven, nurses told her it would take a week to six months to get her into a home.
“They would have to wait for someone else to pass on,” Jeanne says.
If they would have asked for emergency care, it would have been a wait-list of up to three years, Jackie says.
Even the company which manufactured the life alert button their mom wore around her neck failed the family, Jeanne says. She says she received a phone call an hour after the incident from a Lifeline employee who said her mother “had a little accident with a small fire” and said everything was OK.
“I almost didn’t come because it was 11:30 at night. I came here thinking it wasn’t that bad,” Jeanne says.
Instead, Tillie was in the hospital with 65 per cent of her body covered in burns while she clung to life. After deliberating if she was in the proper condition to go to Vancouver General Hospital's burn unit, Jeanne says the doctor told her he was afraid Tillie wouldn’t make it.
“She could have gone from any one of her illnesses, but she burned alive,” Jeanne says through tears.
“Our system failed her and it needs to be changed. No one deserves to die like that. It was devastating. What if she was by herself? What if no one was available to take care of her?” Jackie says.
A FAMILY MATRIARCH LOST
Beyond her roles as grandmother and mother, Tillie was the family’s cook, seamstress and hostess to all her friends and family.
Jeanne says she remembers her fellow classmates admiring a dress she wore and boastfully telling them she had it tailored specifically for her, by Tillie of course.
“She was a wonderful seamstress,” Jeanne says adding her mother contributed her talents to the school’s drama department to make costumes.
There was always a crafting table somewhere, Jeanne says as she points out the hand-painted eggs her mother made. There was quilting, painting and homemade greeting cards.
Jackie adds she often told her mom to make a small business out of her knitting and crochet, but says her mother always gave it away for free to watch a face light up.
Both sisters recall the decadent Ukrainian meals their mother put together, from pirogies to desserts.
“My mom could bake like you wouldn’t believe,” Jackie says remembering a chocolate roll she made with strawberries and cream.
Proud of her Ukrainian heritage, Tillie spoke fluent Ukrainian, which she learned from her grandmother during life on the prairies. Sharing a laugh, they both say that it wasn’t until Tillie’s grandmother died that she learned she spoke fluent English.
Their mother always wanted to make a trip to Tahiti but never made it there.
“We’re hoping to send some ashes there,” Jeanne says.
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