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"Twitter's resident gynecologist" and medical mythbuster Dr. Jennifer Gunter is demanding transparency from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority after her ailing father received what she says is negligent treatment while in Victoria General Hospital.
"What I’m hoping for is just answers as to how this happened," Gunter said Thursday. "It’s not going to bring my dad back, but I want to know."
Gunter’s father Derek, a former Manitoba Hydro electrical engineer, was 90 years old when he was admitted to the hospital after falling ill Jan. 1.
The New York Times columnist and author of The Vagina Bible said problems began when she tried to inform hospital staff of her father's medical history and past illnesses, noting that staff did not seem willing to hear details about his health.
From there, Gunter said, communication between herself, her brother and hospital staff continued to deteriorate. When her father experienced a delirious state a few days into his stay, hospital staff would not indicate what had caused the worsening condition, she said. In late January he experienced a possible respiratory arrest, but she said she was unable to get details on his condition.
"Nobody could tell me what was wrong with him," Gunter said. "No one would tell me what the diagnosis was."
Gunter, who lives and practises in San Francisco, was unable to visit her father during the winter and spring because of the COVID-19 lockdown and border restrictions.
It took five weeks of phone calls and public callouts on Twitter before the hospital communicated with her and her brother, she said.
In February, her father developed new sores on his feet, which the hospital had not informed her about. She also learned the hospital’s geriatrics and palliative-care teams had not been consulted on her father's care, she said.
"They’re not supposed to happen," Gunter said of the bedsores, also called pressure ulcers. "You’re supposed to get the care you need so that doesn’t happen."
In the absence of responses from the hospital, Gunter called the Protection for Person’s in Care Office twice but did not receive a call back.
"My dad is basically rotting to death in Victoria Hospital, no one will tell us what’s going on," Gunter said. "His muscles were wasting away — he had no possible chance of recovery at this point; the horse was gone, the barn door was closed."
Gunter said her father had asked for hospice care but was denied. When he was later moved from the hospital to a nursing home, he was approved for medically assisted death, leaving Gunter with questions about the denial of hospice approval.
"What he wanted was hospice, and he was denied hospice care," she said. "This is, to me, the worst possible death: dying slowly in the hospital, bit by bit."
Gunter said her father was always adamant that he did not want to die in a nursing home, which happened in late March while he was awaiting medically assisted death.
"He died in the exact way he didn’t want to," she said. "He was powerless to do anything."
Though she acknowledges her father was ill before being admitted to the hospital, she believes the WRHA and Victoria General have much to answer for regarding his care and communication with the family.
"I want someone from the hospital to answer every issue," she said. "Why was no one answering our calls? I want answers to each question. None of them are going to make me happy, but I want answers… that’s the only way I’m going to get closure."
A spokesperson for the WRHA said in an email statement that communication between the hospital and the Gunter family was adequate from the beginning.
"Although health care officials are not at liberty to discuss details of an individual patient’s care with members of the public, we can confirm that senior representatives of Victoria Hospital have maintained regular contact with Mr. Gunter’s family, both during his hospitalization and since," the statement said.
The WRHA confirmed to the Free Press that a patient-safety review was conducted regarding Derek Gunter’s care.
The family is scheduled to discuss the results of a critical-incident report regarding his treatment "shortly," the WRHA spokesperson confirmed.
Still, Gunter said she’s looking for the government and health authority to address the "bigger system issues" that were at play and provide transparency about the level of care the hospitals can provide.
"Victoria Hospital needs a diagnosis," she said. "I just feel like it’s a leaky boat with a bunch of patches... there was no dignity in my father’s death."
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
Updated on Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 10:34 PM CDT: Fixes reference to wrha.
July 10, 2020 at 12:28 PM: Clarifies Dr. Gunter called the Protection for Person’s in Care Office.
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