Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Couple hopeful as reunion moves forward

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Werner Junghans holds his wedding photo next to his son, Marc, and wife, Erna.


Werner Junghans holds his wedding photo next to his son, Marc, and wife, Erna. Photo Store

It was the day after Father's Day when the son's belated gift to his aging, ailing father finally arrived at the Tuxedo Estates condo where the dad now lives alone.

The gift was hope.

And it had been left in the hands of a nurse from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The hope was the chance 88-year-old Werner Junghans might be reunited with his 90-year-old wife, Erna, in the nursing home where she resides; just up the street from the condo where they both once lived together.

If you read Saturday's column, you'll know that's all the couple wanted.

That's all their two sons, Marc and Ray, wanted for them.

To be together again, as they vowed they always would be when they were married 66 years ago in post-Second World War Europe.

The nurse -- who arrived as promised right at 10 a.m. -- had been dispatched on high priority by the WRHA to reassess Werner's health and determine whether he was a potential nursing-home candidate. His last assessment had been in February, but their elder son, Marc -- a 59-year-old oil-company executive who visits regularly from his home in Calgary -- had noticed his father's health had deteriorated recently, largely because Werner has been living alone.

Or so Marc believes.

The WRHA had moved quickly Thursday to arrange the assessment after the Free Press forwarded an emotion-charged email from the frustrated and angry younger son, Ray, who lives in Erin, Ont. The letter outlined his father's health problems and the three falls Werner has had in the eight months since Erna almost died because of her circulatory disorder and was placed in care.

The WRHA had moved quickly late last year to find Erna a place at the Tuxedo Villa nursing home, something Marc and Ray greatly appreciated at the time. Now, finally -- suddenly -- they were moving quickly again for their father.

It took the WRHA a mere three working days to arrange for the nurse to visit Werner when assessment appointments can take up to three months.

But it wasn't just the people in "the system" who were moved by both sons' advocacy and their impassioned plea for their parent's well-being; so were Free Press readers from Gabriola Island, B.C., to London, England. The story even attracted the attention of broadcaster Roy Green, who featured it on his national Sunday afternoon network radio show.

For other readers with aging parents -- boomers wonder and worry the system will be worse when their demographic hits over the next three decades -- it was easy to identify with the sons' struggles to advocate and care for their mother and father. Then there were the readers who vented about their own frustrations and concerns with both the home-care system, which attempts to care for those judged not "bad enough" to be in a nursing home, and with the personal-care-home system itself.

And the "wait" list.

There are 5,706 personal-care-home beds under the WRHA umbrella, of which 512 are directly owned and operated by the health authority. As of June 4, there were 363 people waiting for placement; 84 of them in hospitals and the rest are in the community the WRHA says.

How many of those on the wait list are married and hoping to get into the same care facility? I don't know.

But Larry Hurst, a chaplain who has been ministering in Steinbach for the past 13 years, said it's not uncommon.

As for Werner and Erna, there is that gift of hope. The nurse who came to assess him Monday has started the paperwork to have him panelled, Marc reported. But Werner has to see a specialist about a sore on his foot before he can be cleared by the panel that will ultimately decide if he should be placed in a nursing home. Marc reported his father was disappointed, even though in the meantime, his level of home care has been significantly enhanced. In Werner's mind, he thought he would be packing his suitcase after the visit and going to the nursing home just down the street to join his wife.

Marc understands it's a process that will take time. Problem is, he also knows his parents don't have much time left; that one of them could die before they're together again.

Before she left, Marc said, the nurse offered them something the family didn't have before last week.

That gift of hope.

"She said she would do everything in her power to get them together."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2014 B1

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