Injury in hospital a mystery

Senior’s eye blackened while on Waterford ward

Barb Sweet
Published on May 28, 2014
An elderly St. John’s woman received a black eye while she was a patient at the Waterford. Her family doesn’t know how the injury happened. — Submitted photo

When Donna McMullin saw her mother’s black eye, she was shocked, and still has no idea how the elderly woman got the injury while in hospital.

“I was really worried someone had done this to her,” McMullin said of her mother, who isn’t being named out of respect for patient privacy.

“It is very concerning to me because nobody saw what happened at all.”

The woman was expected to be transferred to a Level 3 long-term nursing home bed on Bell Island after several weeks in the Waterford Hospital in order to get her out of her current situation until a nursing home bed opens up in St. John’s.

McMullin said her mother is frail and has cognitive difficulties and was at a personal-care home when her needs changed. She was sent to the Waterford for an assessment of her geriatric-care requirements.

There was no problem on the unit she spent roughly a month on, but then she was transferred around the end of April to a transitional unit to await a nursing home bed.

“They told me it could be a six-month wait for a bed in St. John’s,” said McMullin.

She got a phone call earlier this month saying that her mom had “a little mark” on her eye but was OK.

“I didn’t think too much of it,” McMullin said.

“I went in a day or two later and I was shocked — she had a full black-and-blue eye. She looked like someone had punched her in the face.”

McMullin’s concern is that her mom, who uses a wheelchair, is now on a unit with patients of mixed ages and would not be able to defend herself against an aggressive younger patient, if that’s what happened.

No one knows what did occur. McMullin spoke to hospital administration and one suggestion was that her mother had somehow injured herself. But McMullin said that’s never happened before.

“She couldn’t tell me what happened,” McMullin said.

She said vulnerable geriatric patients should always be in a separate unit, for safety reasons.

St. John’s Centre NDP MHA Gerry Rogers advocated on the woman’s behalf and agrees the unit should be solely a geriatric transitional unit, as she was told it was in the past.

“I think it just points to the problems we have right now in terms of seniors,” Rogers said Tuesday, adding the level of care from staff is not being questioned by the family — who praised their compassion —but the mix of patients is the problem.

Rogers said she asked the hospital adminstration if McMullin’s mother could be transferred back to the unit she was assessed on and was told it is at capacity.

She said the problem is that seniors shouldn’t be in hospital because of a lack of long-term care beds or, in other cases, a lack of a comprehensive provincial home care program.

Rogers said seniors waiting in hospital because they need nursing home beds can pick up diseases and germs in an active acute care hospital setting and there can be safety issues such as McMullin’s mother’s injury.

“This is no surprise. It’s not like all of a sudden there is a crisis that fell out of the sky,” Rogers said of the increasing population of seniors.

“It is absolutely unforgivable this government and the government before them have not planned and used all the potential tools available to make sure we didn’t come to this crisis. … It’s absolutely shocking we are at this stage. In a time of prosperity, we should be able to do better than this.”

Rogers called for an all-party standing committee to examine seniors’ care in the province, including long-term care waits, home care and housing.

Eastern Health doesn’t discuss specific cases, due to privacy rules.

The health authority said there is an acute care geriatric assessment unit at the Waterford and one of two residential geriatric units has 10 transitional beds reserved for seniors awaiting a long-term care home bed or residential community care.

While the units are mostly for seniors, a spokeswoman said there are times when patients under age 65 are placed on the unit while waiting for other services.

The spokeswoman said when a patient is injured, an occurrence report is completed, the next of kin notified and a doctor called in for an exam.

While all hospital patients are checked on frequently, in the case of aggressive patients, the level of surveillance may be adjusted if needed, the health authority said.

There are currently 145 people approved and waiting on nursing home beds in the eastern region and their wait time will vary.

Some 101 others are in a long-term care home and waiting for a bed in the facility of their choice.