‘It is a disaster’: Manitoban confined to bed for months due to lack of home care
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Leona Stahl has been bedridden since September — not by choice, but due to a lack of available home care.
The 59-year-old from Stony Mountain suffered a back injury this year, which put her in hospital for four months. She was allowed to go home Sept. 15, with the plan being two home care workers would visit a few times daily to get her out of bed and into a wheelchair and back again.
Stahl got into her bed that day. Almost three months later, she was still in it.
“I have not been out of bed at all,” Stahl said Monday. “They don’t have enough home care workers. It is a disaster.”Sathya Kovac.
In recent months, Manitobans have publicly complained about problems accessing services in the provincial home care system, including a Winnipeg man with quadriplegia who, at times, has been trapped in his wheelchair overnight when a home care worker doesn’t show up.
In October, 44-year-old Sathya Kovac, who was battling the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, decided to use the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program long before she might have needed to because of ongoing problems accessing adequate home care.
“I could have had more time if I had more help,” Kovac told the Free Press a few days before her death.
“I felt like I had no choice but to end my life,” she said. “MAiD is a last resort, and instead of helping people, they have this… life doesn’t end with less physical ability — it ends with less support.”
On Monday, Stahl said at best through the weeks there has been one home care person to help move her, bring her food and do personal care — and even getting one isn’t guaranteed.
She can’t get out of bed because two workers are needed to operate the lift.
“If it wasn’t for (people in her apartment building) I’d be in trouble, because they come to get me a drink,” she said.
Stahl said she can’t rely on family to help more than they already do; her mother is in her 80s, while her daughter works full-time and has two young children.
Stahl said her back injury was due to decades of stable work, including cleaning out stalls, lifting heavy feed bags and hay bales and breaking-in horses.
She said physiotherapy, not surgery, was recommended, and she was getting it while in hospital. However, since returning home, she has also received no physiotherapy.
“I will be starting again from square one,” Stahl said. “There will be agony for a while. I’m not saying I won’t walk again, but without physiotherapy, I never will.”
Hours after speaking with the Free Press, Stahl said Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority representatives had already rushed to her bedside to meet with her.
“They say they will have two people come with the lift, and they are going to bring a new lift because this one is no longer working — the battery won’t charge after so long without it being used,” Stahl said.
“We’ll see if they keep it up.”
Stahl said Interlake-Eastern representatives told her the lack of home care personnel was due to staff shortages.
However, an Interlake-Eastern spokeswoman told the Free Press it “is not experiencing staffing shortages that would significantly affect service delivery in the Stony Mountain area.”
“If not staffing, then what was the problem I didn’t get enough workers?” Stahl said.
Thomas Linner, provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition, said Stahl’s case gives another glimpse into the unhealthy situation many home care clients are experiencing and the provincial government’s attitude towards it.
“What we see this as is: we don’t care about how bad health care is,” Linner said. “There is almost no public data about (home care), so it slips under the radar — there’s no accountability.”
Linner said the coalition is also concerned by what it sees as the Manitoba government pushing home care, and other parts of the public health system, towards a private system.
“What we see this as is: we don’t care about how bad health care is… There is almost no public data about (home care), so it slips under the radar — there’s no accountability.”–Thomas Linner
“It’s just seems like the old mantra of cuts, crisis and sell off,” he said.
“We’ve done nothing to shore up the home care system, especially post-COVID. If anything should have shored it up it would have been a pandemic with a respiratory virus and the need to have people be treated at home and not at clinics — but that didn’t happen.”
Debbie Boissonneault, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204, which represents more than 14,000 health-care workers across the province (including home care staff), said Stahl’s situation is another case of provincial cuts leading to reduced services.
“We believe there’s a lot of stress in the system,” Boissonneault said. “We need to invest in health care, we need to invest more, and it will work.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.