Hospital threatened to release elderly former nurse to shelter, daughter says
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After lengthy hospital stays, an 83-year-old retired nurse with renal and heart issues, as well as dementia, was going to be discharged to Main Street Project shelter — if family didn’t take her in, her daughter says.
“My mother came to this country as a nurse,” Marilyn Zachariah said, seeking to sound the alarm about a lack of available hospital beds and home care in Winnipeg.
Philomina Zachariah immigrated from India and worked in the health-care system in geriatrics for 40 years, her daughter said.
“She took great pride in the way that she treated and cared for her patients, and this is a system that’s throwing her aside now,” Marilyn Zachariah said Thursday, speaking to reporters at the Manitoba legislature.
Zachariah — flanked by her aunt and cousin, and NDP Leader Wab Kinew and health critic Uzoma Asagwara — said she has no political affiliation or connection to any party but wants to raise public awareness about the state of health care.
Her mom was first admitted to Victoria General Hospital on Nov. 5, suffering from heart failure and renal failure. She was there for 12 days, during which time her family tried to get her panelled for long-term care.
Zachariah said they were told it wasn’t an alternative; that home care was the best and only option.
The family agreed and took Philomina home Nov. 14, thinking “We’ll trust the system,” Zachariah said.
“We lasted six weeks at home with home care that was inconsistent and unreliable.”
“We lasted six weeks at home with home care that was inconsistent and unreliable.”–Marilyn Zachariah
Philomina was admitted to Victoria again Jan. 1.
During the first few days in urgent care, Zachariah was told to prepare for her mother’s passing.
She received good care, supplemented by family from around the world who wanted to spend time with Philomina, in her in what they thought were her final days, Zachariah said.
Philomina’s health improved — “So much so, she was considered to be functionally capable to go home,” her daughter said.
Zachariah said she told officials she wasn’t capable of caring for her mom at home without adequate home service, but was told Philomina still wasn’t eligible for long-term care.
“It’s not about your medical ability, it’s about your functional ability,” Zachariah said she was told. Her mom could walk with a walker and wasn’t incontinent.
Zachariah said she relayed to officials she needed time to prepare.
“Their response was: ‘If you don’t give us an address, we will discharge her to the Main Street Project’… I was in disbelief.”
Main Street provides shelter, transitional housing and programming to some of the city’s most vulnerable people. It’s also home to the intoxicated persons detention area.
The reasoning given to her, Zachariah said, was the shelter has medical staff on hand.
While Zachariah tried to make alternate arrangements, the hospital moved Philomina from a semi-private to a four-bed room — where the woman was placed in a fifth bed.
“She was crammed into this space with no call bell, absolutely no care, and left there because they were trying to put pressure on me to get her out,” Zachariah claimed Thursday.
“Their response was: ‘If you don’t give us an address, we will discharge her to the Main Street Project’… I was in disbelief.”–Marilyn Zachariah
The manager of patient care and director of the hospital “said their hands were tied,” and begged her to take her mom home, Zachariah said.
She did. Four days later, Philomina was “transferred to Riverview (Health Centre), thankfully, where she’s receiving the care she needs and deserves.”
Zachariah said she doesn’t work in health care and didn’t know what to do.
“I brought her home and I did my best” — as have other Manitoba families in similar situations, she said. “The way that there is no support within health care, it makes these families feel like failures, and it’s not OK.”
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority couldn’t say late Thursday how often patients are discharged to Main Street Project or what the policy is for moving people out of hospital deemed functional but whose families can’t take them because there’s not adequate, reliable home care.
“She was crammed into this space with no call bell, absolutely no care, and left there because they were trying to put pressure on me to get her out.”–Marilyn Zachariah
The WRHA spokesperson said they would look into the matter.
Zachariah said she and her cousin who lives in Health Minister Audrey Gordon’s Southdale constituency visited the MLA in her Winnipeg office early on about her mom’s situation and their struggle getting her panelled for long-term care.
Gordon “committed to help, but there was no help,” Zachariah said.
Gordon’s press secretary did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.
“Every patient in Manitoba is entitled to quality care, which is something we expect and charge service delivery organizations with delivering. Medical decisions, including panelling, are made by clinical experts,” a government spokesperson stated Thursday.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.