Family details mother's horror story

Says experience in long-term care has been an uphill battle

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on October 16, 2013
Florence Northcott is a resident of the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex in St. John’s. Her family says they have raised concerns about her care, but no one is listening.
— Submitted photo

Gena Benoit and Carleen Templeman’s mother walked into the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex 16 months ago, but the sisters fear she’ll never walk out of there.

They told The Telegram last week that their mother, who turned 65 in the St. John’s long-term care facility in July, weighed 168 pounds when she was admitted. Templeman said if her mother is 80 pounds now, that’s all she is.

“She’s nothing but a frame. Skin over bone,” said Templeman of her mother,

Florence Northcott.

To make matters worse, Benoit says, the bedsore on her mother’s tailbone, which was the size of a speck of dirt in April, has turned into an open, oozing wound through which the woman’s backbone is clearly visible.

The photos of their mother are shocking and the sisters cry as Benoit thumbs through them.

“That is an ulcer, a bedsore that started in April. She never had bedsores before — bedsores as big around as your fist — and if she was turned proper, if she was taken care of, the bedsores should never happen,” said Benoit, her voice cracking as she fights back tears.

“For someone who was walking before April, to have that on her tailbone … and that’s only part of it. To walk in and see your mother full of dirt with gravy all over her face hours after supper, outdated warm Boost and rotten oranges on her table. Is that right?” she said, raising her voice and becoming angry.

Benoit said the family has since been informed her mother has MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is resistant to a number of antibiotics.

Templeman said they have met with staff at the facility several  times and it’s always the same result — they’ll look into it.

“I wouldn’t advise anyone to put a loved one in Hoyles,” says Templeman, visibly frustrated and upset.

“We had a meeting the other day — ‘It’ll be addressed, addressed, addressed.’ That’s all they say, but nothing ever gets done. We have been fighting and meeting, and every meeting we have at the Hoyles, it seems like she keeps getting worse,” she said.

Benoit and Templeman believe staff have labelled the family as being difficult because they have complained about their mother’s medication, about her not being clean, having body odour and being dehydrated.

They said they have talked to the person in charge of resident care, physiotherapy and medical staff, and the response is to move their mother to a different unit.

Their family is not alone.

Ken Kavanagh’s 84-year-old mother is a resident at the facility as well. He spoke to The Telegram last week about what he calls the substandard care his mother is receiving.

His initial outrage was over his mother being fed spaghettios around the same time Health Minister Susan Sullivan announced the government’s pleasure with Eastern Health’s money-saving initiatives while not affecting patient care.

During a news conference last Thursday, Sullivan announced Eastern Health has saved more than $22 million in the first quarter of the 2013-14 fiscal year (to June 30, 2013) through operational improvement initiatives. She said its efforts will also be followed by the other regional health authorities in the province — Central Health, Western Health and Labrador-Grenfell Health.

Sullivan has told The Telegram the operational savings have nothing to do with the concerns families have expressed about patient care in long-term care facilities.

She did acknowledge that Eastern Health is having issues with staffing.

“The information I found is they have been experiencing challenges recently in terms of requisite numbers of staff on shift, and that is due to leave and some recruitment issues as well,” said the health minister.

Eastern Health says it has about 300 permanent full-time and part-time nursing staff, with about 120 nursing staff on shift daily. This includes registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal care attendants.

“Eastern Health does not have a shortage of permanent, full-time workers within long-term care facilities, and a pool of temporary workers to help cover vacation time and planned leave; however, the program does struggle to recruit and retain temporary call-in staff to cover unanticipated leave, such as sick days,” the authority said in an email last week to The Telegram.

Benoit and Templeman said they understand facilities are under stress because they are short-staffed, but residents deserve more respect and care than they are getting.

“She raised four children on her own. My dad died when I was 13. She worked three jobs and struggled to get us through school and get us raised,” Benoit said of her mother. “All she wants is a bit of dignity and respect, and Hoyles got it took from her.”

Benoit and Templeman said their experience with the health-care system began in 2009 when their mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She was 61.

“She was devastated. She was driving and had a job and she gave all that up and became depressed,” said Benoit, thumbing through a binder filled with papers regarding her mother’s medical appointments and health reports.

In March 2011, their mother went to Ontario to stay with their sister because she was afraid of being alone in her house. A year later she returned to St. John’s.

They said throughout this time she was taking medication for Parkinson’s. On the night her mother came back to St. John’s, Benoit said, she was disoriented, hyper and suffering from hallucinations. She said her mother fell down and cut her hand, so they took her to St. Clare’s. Because of her state of mind, the hospital decided to send her to the Waterford Hospital until a bed became available in a long-term care facility.

In June 2012 she was transferred to Hoyles-Escasoni.

Benoit said she walked into the facility and was alert and able to take care of herself, to a point. She said her mother was able to use the bathroom on her own, but staff insisted on making her wear diapers “just in case she didn’t make it,” and now she has to wear them because she can’t get out of bed without help.

Benoit said even when her mother was moved for a third time to a different unit in April, she walked on her own, but her state has been getting progressively worse.

In November 2012 the sisters said they took matters into their own hands to try to figure out why their mother wasn’t getting any better between then and the time she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Templeman said the neurologist told them her mother didn’t have Parkinson’s and started to wean her off the medication.

She said they were told their mother is in the final stages of Lewy body dementia.

According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association website, www.lbda.org, symptoms can closely resemble Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and the illness is widely misdiagnosed.

When asked what the family will do next, Benoit’s voice breaks with emotion.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“We’ve been fighting and arguing with the home and the higher-ups. She’s on a list, almost a year now, to be transferred out of that place, which is awful. I don’t know where else we can turn.

“It’s just a total horror story. A year ago something might have changed for her, she might have had a chance, but at this point she’s not going to get any better and we wanted to tell people about her so they will be conscious of what is going on.”

 

bbelec@thetelegram.com