Kelowna woman trying to ensure seniors in care are treated better than her mother was | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna woman trying to ensure seniors in care are treated better than her mother was

Bev Ambler and her mom, Terry, in 2019.
Image Credit: Submitted/Bev Ambler

It’s going on two years since Bev Ambler was allowed back into her mother’s assisted living home in Kelowna after being banned because of COVID.

What she found was a frail and emaciated woman who never fully recovered from her ordeal despite Ambler quitting her job as a care aid and taking her mother home.

She’s searching for answers to what happened to her mother, whether the actions of the care home manager were even legal and why the Ministry of Health is doing so little to protect those in care.

“I’ve been a care aid since 1989 and was taught that this behaviour was illegal,” Ambler told “Yet, in this case, it’s not?”

Ambler’s mother, Terry, was having difficulty living on her own and was in and out of hospital repeatedly so Ambler and her family felt it best to move Terry into Sun Pointe Village in 2016. That’s an assisted living facility run by the Baptist Housing Society.

Ambler chose Sun Pointe because she worked as a care aid in a long term care home run by the Society and was convinced it was the best operator in Kelowna.

Terry was given her annual evaluation by Interior Health in November 2019 and considered fit to remain in an assisted living facility.

After COVID hit in April of 2020. Ambler and other family members were not allowed in to see Terry. It was only after hearing from workers in the facility that Ambler found out her mother’s health was failing.

On May 22, 2020, Ambler contacted Interior Health with her concerns. A nurse visited Terry and called for a palliative care assessment – meaning Terry was near death.

Ambler was allowed back in and was able to help Terry gain 10 pounds in the three weeks before the palliative assessment was made. That showed Terry was not dying. In June, Ambler quit her job and took her 97-year-old mom home to live with her.

READ MORE: B.C. care aide forced to quit to care for her own mother after steep decline under COVID lockdown

On June 22, 2020, Ambler filed a complaint to the Assisted Living Registry, alleging Sun Pointe failed to inform her of Terry’s deteriorating health.

That was the start of a whole new traumatic experience in Ambler’s life that continues to this day.

Her complaint was ruled as unsubstantiated in September, 2020. She was told there was no appeal process.

When she got the written report on her complaint, Ambler saw some major flaws in the investigation.

For one thing, the investigator was told that Ambler had applied to Interior Health to have her mother put into a long term care facility, which was not true.

For another thing, the investigator only looked at charts filled out by care aids for May and June, after Ambler had been allowed back in.

The investigator was told there were no records available for the five weeks in April and May, when Terry was not allowed visitors, Ambler said.

Sun Pointe would not comment on the case.

“Due to privacy and confidentiality, we cannot comment on the personal health or circumstances of any individual,” Gail Anton, Director of Operations for Baptist Housing told in an email. “In the case concerning allegations brought forward by Ms. Ambler, her complaint was reviewed again by the Registrar’s Office and their findings have been made public. There is no further action required by Baptist Housing.”

Ambler talked to the Patient Care Quality Office, which deals with complaints about long term care homes, and was told she could only deal with the Assisted Living Registry.

Yet, in an email from the Ministry of Health, was told that Ambler could appeal through the Patient Quality Care Office, which was the only comment the Ministry would make on the case.

The only advice Ambler got from the Assisted Living Registry was that she could file a Freedom of Information request to get the documents she wanted.

Ambler filed that request and got the records for the five-week period when she was not allowed to visit Terry.

Ambler took the documents back to the Assisted Living Registry, which agreed to reopen its investigation.

Ambler also contacted the Office of the Ombudsperson, who investigated. But, by the time they contacted the director of the Assisted Living Registry, they were told the original complaint was being re-investigated so they could go no further as they only investigate closed files.

In an email to Ambler, however, the Ombudsperson’s office said the director had committed to review “multiple sections” of their regulations on how investigations are conducted and make changes where necessary.

That report also says the Director of the Assisted Living Registry committed to “determine if there were any communication issues between the facility manager and yourself that were not identified in the original investigation.”

On Dec. 9, 2021, Ambler’s complaint was finally substantiated but she has yet to receive the report in writing.

The consequences for Sun Pointe is a notation on the Assisted Living Registry’s website.

“Site management did not ensure adequate and timely communication with family regarding the health of a resident,” the website says. “Registrant has reviewed management concerns and taken actions to address issues. No further actions required.”

To Ambler, that’s just not good enough, especially at a time when the Omicron variant has forced another lockdown on care homes so only essential visitors can get in – and qualifying as an essential visitor can be tough.

READ MORE: B.C. woman fighting for 'essential' access to 94-year-old father

“I’m not letting this one go,” Ambler said. “When I did get back in to see mom I did see a lot of other seniors who had lost a lot of weight. I was so caught up with what was happening to mom, all of a sudden, I didn’t really have a lot of time to reflect on everything else. I’ve had that time and I know it’s happening to others. I’m reading about it on the (Families for Change - Stories From Longterm Care) Facebook group. I’m reading about it in the paper. I’m seeing more visitors being taken away.

“We have not taken care of the worst case scenarios. Mom’s was one of the worst case scenarios in the pandemic experience in a facility and we haven’t taken care of that yet, so let’s really work together on that. Let’s put our egos aside. Let’s not worry about who’s embarrassed or not. Let’s just work together to make sure seniors are safe.”

From what Ambler can determine from the material she got through her Freedom of Information request there was neglect on the part of management at Sun Pointe.

Terry suffered from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) so there was a flare-up plan in place and it had been used earlier in Terry’s stay.

The documents show Terry had all the signs of a flare-up during the five-week period in question. The care aids reported on it so the managers must have known but did nothing, Ambler alleged.

“I know that you cannot leave, for over five weeks, a 97-year-old in distress,” Ambler said. “The facility claimed that they relied heavily on Interior Health paperwork and they were waiting for Interior Health to come and assess mom and that never happened and mom quickly became palliative. We know now that’s not true. In fact, the Interior Health paperwork says that mom has a COPD care plan to follow when she has a flare-up. She was having symptoms of a COPD flare-up for almost five weeks. She couldn’t even get two prescriptions from the drug store delivered. That’s neglect. That’s in the Criminal Code. I want to know how that’s legal.”

Care homes are also required to report to a resident’s doctor if she loses more than 10% of her body weight, Ambler said. Terry dropped from about 100 pounds to 71 and it took days of asking before the Sun Pointe manager would even tell Ambler what Terry weighed.

“When I talked to the registrar in July, they asked me what I wanted to see,” Ambler recalled. “I said I wanted to see enough of a reprimand – because I know how illegal this is – so the facility won’t think about ever doing this again.”

Along with the note on the registry’s website, it also says that new management is in place.

That may be, but the manager working at the time of Terry’s decline is still working there, just as a nurse, Ambler said.

“I said to (the registrar) in July that I don’t want anyone ground into the dirt on this,” Ambler said. “I understand it was the most horrible of pandemic situations and it was the first wave. I’m sure there were a lot of bad mistakes made (elsewhere) but, I think, everywhere we have seen that, where facilities have taken away essential care givers they did not report the decline of seniors, they did not report the major weight loss. None of that was done and you would think by now, going into the second year (of COVID), everyone would care enough to actually work together to have some measures in place to prevent this from happening again.

“Instead, I’m watching it happen all over again with other families getting ready to lose their loved ones in the same circumstance. I don’t understand the resistance from the registrar, from Sun Pointe. I was willing to deal with this, me and Sun Pointe together as an employee-family-employer-operator and have none of it get out and let’s work on a plan.”

Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie came out last week with a plea to allow each resident in care facilities to have at least one designated visitor during this current wave. That hasn’t happened.

READ MORE: B.C. long-term care residents are entitled to a designated visitor: seniors advocate

“Nobody intentionally goes into a career or into business to harm seniors,” Ambler said. “Nobody does that. The manager is not Cruella Deville. These are bad mistakes and bad decisions. Human nature being what it is, we don’t want to admit that we are wrong. When it turns out that it might look really worse than we realized, we have a tendency to hide what we did.

“That’s why it’s ultimately so important to have checks and balances in place so this doesn’t happen again. That’s why I explained (to the registrar) in July why essential visitors are so important because one advocate alone would have prevented all of this mess – going on two years now.”

On Dec. 22 Ambler wrote to Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown expressing her concerns. It was someone in that office who told her that, if Sun Pointe interfered in the investigation by withholding documents, that could be a criminal matter.

“I haven’t heard back from the Deputy Minister’s office either so it’s time to ask questions in a more public manner,” Ambler said. “I’m trying to find the courage to approach the RCMP. As so much time has gone by and, with feeling completely diminished by the (Assisted Living Registry) and Baptist Housing, my confidence is lacking, which I’m not used to feeling…but I’ll buck up and try.”

Terry died in December 2020 in Ambler’s home. While she recovered some of her lost weight, she never regained the spirit she once had.

“Funnily enough, it was mom who taught me that, when someone is trying really hard to diminish you, then what you’re thinking is probably right and keep going,” Ambler said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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