Family called 911 from Miller Centre

Almost a year later, they’re still waiting on a reply from client relations office

Barb Sweet
Published on April 2, 2012
Sue Rideout (right) is still waiting for answers from Eastern Health on the complaint she made nearly a year ago about her mother (left) Geraldine Hartery’s treatment at the Miller Centre. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

A woman who called 911 to get help for her mother last year while the senior was a patient at the Miller Centre in St. John’s is still waiting for answers from Eastern Health.

Sue Rideout said she called the client relations office in April 2011, the same day she phoned for paramedics to transfer her mother to the Health Sciences Centre for treatment.

Rideout called from Geraldine Hartery’s bedside because her mother’s heart rate and blood pressure were up. The drastic move came after she said a doctor at the Miller Centre disagreed with having Hartery taken off an anti-nausea drug that the family believes caused her to lose muscle function.

“The paramedics came and thought they were going for a routine transfer. … I waved them in,” Rideout said, adding the paramedics found that Hartery was suffering from an abnormal heart rhythm and transported her to Emergency at the Health Sciences Centre.

Eastern Health confirmed the patient’s family has been in discussions with the client relations office, but cannot speak to the media about a patient’s case.

A spokeswoman said the authority takes every complaint seriously.

Rideout said staff at the Miller Centre had checked her mother’s vital signs previously and said she was fine, even though a physiotherapy session had been cut short because of her heartbeat and shortness of breath.

Before the incident, Rideout said staff attending to her mother at the Miller Centre suggested to the family that Hartery should be in a long-term care facility and confined to a wheelchair.

But now, nearly a year after she stopped taking the drug Stemetil, Hartery is not only walking and functioning fine at home, she’s looking forward to a trip to Ontario to visit her other daughter, goes shopping with her sisters once a week and has improved drastically.

While for some patients, like Hartery, Stemetil is given to treat nausea, the drug can also be used for psychiatric patients.

“That took years off my life, that day I had to save her by taking her out of one facility to bring her to the emergency department,” Rideout said. “It killed me that I had to do it.”

Hartery’s ordeal started in early 2011 when she had a mild heart attack, followed by surgery after complications from a dye test that caused her stomach to be distended.

Then she had a stroke but began physiotherapy at the Health Sciences Centre and was making progress, Rideout said. After about two months, her family and her husband were looking forward to her being transferred to the Miller Centre to continue speech and physical therapy.

“So the end of February they came to us and said she’s going to the Miller Centre. We were elated,” Rideout said.

She said her mother was put on Stemetil at the Health Sciences Centre and was given it intravenously every six hours.  The family didn’t question it as she was on numerous drugs. The drug order kept getting renewed, and by the time she got to the Miller Centre, she couldn’t feed herself or walk.

Hartery described her state as like being stuck in a glass jar.

“I couldn’t even open a tube of toothpaste,” she recalled.

Rideout said the family was bewildered as to why her mother was going downhill — they say she couldn’t even smile. Rideout’s sister, Heather, a physiotherapist on maternity leave from a ward for stroke patients in Ontario, mentioned the case to a neurology resident there. According to Rideout, the resident suspected the drug was responsible for her mother’s problems.

So the family fought with staff until they took Hartery off the drug. On the following Monday, when she saw the doctor assigned to her mother’s case, Rideout said he wouldn’t listen to their concerns and request for their mother to see a neurologist, but wanted her to have a lung X-ray because he suspected a blood clot.

Rideout said the doctor told them to take her somewhere else if they didn’t like the treatment he was providing.

Rideout said after she called 911, her mother was put on a medication that eased her rigidity symptoms within 24 hours. The problem with her heart rate was caused by her heart medication not being adjusted after she came off the Stemetil, Rideout explained.

When Hartery began to improve and returned to the Miller Centre, there was no acknowledgement of what had happened and no better treatment by staff, Rideout said.

But she did have a different doctor and worked hard at outpatient therapy when she went hone.

“I’d say she is 99 per cent of what she was before,” Rideout said of her mother’s condition.

“They didn’t advocate there was something wrong with me,” Hartery said of many of the staff at the Miller Centre assigned to her case.

Now the family is frustrated with the wait for answers from Eastern Health, although Rideout said she’s made a number of inquiries, even to CEO Vickie Kaminski’s office.

Hartery commented on her treatment on a survey she was sent about her care at the Miller Centre.

“To this day, no one has given a reason why I was ordered the drug or who ordered it,” Hartery said in the document.

“This medicine was turning me to stone. If my family did not consult an outside neurologist or call the ambulance on April 4th, I would not be alive today. … I pray that this hasn’t happened to another family or happen to others in days to come.”

“I don’t understand how so many walls were put up to getting her taken off the drug,” Rideout said.

“I didn’t understand why she was on this drug in first place. …This is a mistake.”