Newfoundland couple separated by nursing home policy

Barb Sweet
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

The heartbreak in Douglas Parrell’s voice is clear when he talks about how long-term care placement policies are making him live apart from his wife of 58 years on opposite ends of Newfoundland.

Submitted photo
Douglas and Virtue Parrell have been married for nearly six decades, but are now living apart — he is in a long-term care home on the province’s west coast and she is in a St. John’s facility. Family have been trying to get him placed with her.

“We’re almost parted 12 months. I don’t understand what is going on. I talk to her pretty well every night. She says, ‘Come in, come in, come in,’” he said in a telephone interview.

“I’d like to get in with my wife. We’d been living so long together. Up to our age — she going 89, I going 87 — I don’t see why they come to part us up when in that age, you need the company.”

He is in a Level I placement in Flower’s Cove on the Northern Peninsula, and Virtue Parrell was sent to St. John’s for a reassessment last March and placed in Glenbrook Lodge in mid-August.

By “company,” Douglas Parrell is talking about well-being — family say his wife has dementia and she has been noticeably deteriorating since being separated from her spouse. They say professionals handling her case have written supportive letters about reuniting the couple.

The couple, from Sandy Cove, had been in the nearby Flower’s Cove facility for about four years together, when, family say, Virtue needed to be reassessed and was sent into the Waterford, where long-term care assessments are carried out. The issue is not her being placed in St. John’s — she has family here — but with her husband not being placed in Glenbrook with her.

“We go to visit her every night and we see a difference in her,” said daughter-in-law Virginia Parrell, who has been lobbying on the couple’s behalf since last year. She and her husband and family live in St. John’s.

Douglas and Virtue’s son, Roland, who lives in Saskatchewan, said the Eastern Health officials dealing with the case seem cold.

“It just amazes me that Eastern Health placement services in particular could have so much information since October on how my mother’s separation from her husband has had a negative impact on her,” Roland said.

Virginia Parrell said an offer was made by Eastern Health to put Douglas in Level I care somewhere in the metro area, but because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), he wouldn’t physically be able to make daily visits to see his wife at Glenbrook, nor would Virtue understand him coming during the day and then going away again. He has come in for visits, including at Christmas, and found getting back and forth to see his wife taxing.

“I think moving him to a new surrounding would be tough on him,” said Virginia Parrell.

“It’s a job to get my boots on with my knees and that,” Douglas explained.

The family also fears if he got placed somewhere in St. John’s, there would be zero incentive for the authorities to unite the couple in the same facility.

Virginia Parrell said the family has had no sense from Eastern Health when the couple might be put together, and suspects her father-in-law needs a higher level of care.

She is questioning some of the priority given other transfers and placements, and beds being left open, suggesting spouses aren’t getting enough consideration, especially when keeping elderly couples apart affects their health and well-being.

NDP health critic Lorraine Michael is questioning Eastern Health’s spousal placement policy, suggesting there is one in theory that would unite spouses in special circumstances, but in practice it’s non-existent. She recounted she said as much to an Eastern Health long-term care official.

It just amazes me that Eastern Health placement services in particular could have so much information since October on how my mother’s separation from her husband has had a negative impact on her, Roland Parrell

“The bottom line is, you might have a policy, but you don’t have a policy,” Michael said.

She said she has been dealing with Eastern Health about the couple’s case and a dozen days ago she delivered a letter outlining the Parrells’ situation to Health Minister Dr. John Haggie, asking for two things in particular — the department’s help to reunite the couple and for Haggie to review Eastern Health’s policy on spousal placements.

As for Eastern Health’s offer of a Level I placement, Michael said that’s a red herring — the couple, because of their medical issues and age, need to be together.

“The family really sees her going down,” Michael said.

Michael said as she understands it, after emergencies and finding beds for elderly people who are in hospital waiting for nursing home care, the placements then go by a waitlist. She said she’s been told Douglas is No. 2 on a spousal placement waitlist. But she said it can take a couple of years.

“Eastern Health is saying, ‘He’s there (on the list), he’s going to have to wait, someday he will get in,’” said Michael, acknowledging that for people of advanced age, a year or two is a monumental time frame.

“That can be never happening. It’s a hard thing to say, but it’s true.”

As of Telegram deadline Thursday, Michael had not heard back from Haggie, other than a brief receipt-of-letter acknowledgement from staff.

Provincial long-term care operational standards from 2005 suggest that when a spouse doesn’t meet the same level of care, placement can be considered “where it has been determined that separation is detrimental to a spouse.”

Eastern Health’s said its long-term care placement policies are based on greatest need for care, but it does allow for spousal admissions in exceptional circumstances. “We recognize that some couples wish to reside together in one long-term care facility and that being separated due to care needs can create an emotional hardship for the couples,” Eastern Health said in an email response, acknowledging there is often a wait time due to the demand for urgent admissions to long-term care. Most times, the person with the highest care needs is admitted first, at which time Eastern Health works to accommodate the other person as soon as possible, the health authority said.

 “Eastern Health makes every effort to accommodate couples who wish to reside together in one long-term care facility. However, if a couple cannot be admitted to the long-term care facility of their choice, Eastern Health will recommend alternative facilities that would have the available capacity,” the statement said.

The Department of Health has stated it will make a statement about the situation Friday.

Organizations: Haggie, Department of Health

Geographic location: Glenbrook, Newfoundland, Northern Peninsula Waterford Saskatchewan

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Mike
    February 27, 2016 - 20:22

    The Gov't is going around looking for suggestions as to how to save money!!!!! We have elderly people who are separated in their senior years, when they need each other most. We have able bodied young people who sit home on their lazy asses all day long and collect Welfare and are never questioned or bothered. They take preference over our elderly. It is not very often that i have been ashamed to say I am a Newfoundlander, but at times like this I am. SHAME ON US!!!!

  • Anna
    February 27, 2016 - 17:52

    Reminds me of a heartbreaking scene in a British made film...'Cider With Rosie'... where an aging couple are taken into care by the parish, and are separated after a lifetime together. Please, please, reunite this family. Let love and companionship continue!

  • ray genge
    February 27, 2016 - 14:21

    Terrible, same thing happened to my mom n dad with same nursing in floqers cove, they separated them after 50 years married

  • Katherine Connors
    February 27, 2016 - 09:23

    This is just scandalous and so wrong - no matter how Eastern Health justifies it's policies. These policies, by the way,sound so archaic and need to be revisited. Eastern Health - 106do the most Christian thing - step up to the plate and give this couple some comfort and peace in the days they have left.

  • Jen
    February 26, 2016 - 20:56

    Doesn't give society much to look forward to in... So sad :(

  • paulette
    February 26, 2016 - 15:11

    This is so sad and cruel! These two people have become one through marriage and should not be separated by Eastern Healths policies. They will crumble faster being apart from the comfort and support of their partners. Such a sin!

  • Scott M
    February 26, 2016 - 12:07

    Unbelievable at best , I wish the news would contact the Prime Minister he can find a lot of money to give to the rest of the world. Time to step up and look after our own backyard first.

  • mike
    February 26, 2016 - 11:45

    this is outrages ! put the couple together ,and let live them finish their lives together ! whats wrong with the goverment in newfoundland !SHAME ON YOU !!

  • Jeff
    February 26, 2016 - 11:09

    Interesting. Not a peep from the Unions on this one. Now if this were privately run facilities the Unions would be trumpeting this from the rooftops as to how private care doesn't work.

    • DWI
      February 26, 2016 - 13:24

      These are management decisions. Union workers have to put up with the same heavy-handed bureaucracy. But we get it: you're jealous of people who have unions.

  • Mark
    February 26, 2016 - 11:01

    It's nice to see that Eastern Health treats its patients with the same indifference and contempt as it does its staff. Who is responsible??!

  • MIKE
    February 26, 2016 - 10:34

    The younger and healthier people make such decisions; not thinking that they might end up like that in the future . They look at the paperwork, but not at the people in need.

  • Judy
    February 26, 2016 - 09:55

    This is ridiculous! This happened to a friend from Brigus but living in the States, a couple of years ago... Guess what? Even in the States they knew it was morally wrong to keep this couple apart during their last days, and they did put them together, side by side, where they could hold eachother's hand..... Don't wait till it's too late... Have a heart, this could be you.....

    • Ncognito
      February 26, 2016 - 12:22

      Yes Judy, even us war-mongering, gun toting capitalists from the States illustrate morals from time to time. You know what else we do? We stand up for ourselves. What will you do to help these two fellow Newfoundlanders who are being wronged by your own government?

  • Yvonne Noseworthy
    February 26, 2016 - 09:22

    It's just another case of Eastern Health putting physical needs ahead of mental needs. The two should go hand-in-hand. They just see that the physical needs of this couple are being taken care of, and leave no concern for their quality of life. It's so sad that our system would separate people like this.

  • Mrs_J_Will
    February 26, 2016 - 09:17

    Eastern Health needs to review this concern. Couples who have lived most of their life together need to be kept together as their health deteriorates. They are their spouses major mental health supporters, companions, and life partners. To deny anyone of this is heart breaking. Sadly, this is the faith that many seniors are dealing facing. We have been battling with Eastern Health for 2 months now advocating for a couple that is close to us (family). And, to date, they are still separated. The battle is not over yet though. Funny enough, there was a meeting on #BellLetsTalk day about the mental health of these two individuals.

  • Lisa
    February 26, 2016 - 08:59

    Such a heartbreaking story, for a couple who want to be together to be torn apart it's very sad. The big decision makers on these matters should realize that this too may happen to them someday. This couple need to be reunited before it's to late.

  • mainlander
    February 26, 2016 - 08:55

    Seriously? FFS Eastern Health, get your sh!t together. This is scandalous & they should not have to go to the media to get you to fix it! Figure it out!!

  • Not Surprised
    February 26, 2016 - 08:33

    Another example of the bureaucratic monster at work... here's some advice to the Family; Department of Health guidelines mandate Eastern Health to provide accommodations to the family in the same facility. One letter from a lawyer which will cost on average $300-$400, threatening a law suit based on neglect and failure to adhere to their internal policies and procedures will get them scurrying! These people who wait until Friday afternoons at 3:00 pm to return telephone calls and e-mails are in emergency response mode most of the time... they will deem a lawyer's intervention an emergency! Shame on you Social Workers and Eastern Health middle management. Mr. Diamond, time for some of the 'old guard' to be put out to pasture, and let's actually start dealing with the issues!

  • santo
    February 26, 2016 - 07:21

    Shame on Eastern Health. A couple married that long and separated like that. That is just cruel. It's certainly not helping their health. AND, it's unnecessary. No one will ever convince me or the public or the family, that nothing can be done. A few phone calls to some different facilities, and you can have this couple together... Workers at these facilities understand how important it is to keep spouses together if they require different care on different floors, and make an effort to get them together as much as possible, I've seen it. The sad thing is, they are probably not the only couple being made to live like this. Break their hearts in there last few years, good for you Eastern Health. Are you just looking at "Eastern Health facilities" or can a private facility easily accommodate? I bet there is a place, you're just not willing to look outside the box.

  • maderighthere
    February 26, 2016 - 07:11


  • The real Calvin
    February 26, 2016 - 07:03

    Heartbreaking. Bureaucratic nonsense. Let them live their remaining days together so they can die together.

  • chris
    February 26, 2016 - 02:18

    The parents receive good care, yet the family is still not satisfied. Let the family take the parents home and care for them. This will free up space that somebody else so desperately needs.

    • Usinger
      February 26, 2016 - 09:48

      Chris, seems like Eastern Health has an abundance of people with your lack of compassion

    • Chantal
      February 26, 2016 - 10:19

      ... there's always one who has to spread their own misery..

  • Lonewolf
    February 25, 2016 - 23:40

    All the more reason to have proper health care throughout the province and not just St.Johns.

  • Welcome
    February 25, 2016 - 20:28

    That is public health care! Privatise health care, give people a break on taxes so they can buy private insurance, government support those who can't afford it. Hospitals compete for business. People get good service.

    • santo
      February 26, 2016 - 11:36

      Once upon a time, I wouldn't have agreed with you, but my experience over the last year and half with family, and my age creeping up there, I fear for my future left in the hands of Eastern Health. Hear that Eastern Health, you have people out there afraid to get sick! Because I know I won't get the care I would if I were hiring someone to look after me. Which is what, in my opinion, people in the States do. They hire a Doctor to care for them, the same as you'd hire a lawyer. Hey, you get what you pay for, right!? Unfortunately, the cost for us is rather high... our life...