Blog | December 15, 2014

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - When her daughter arrived at the senior’s care facility, Marion “Dicksie” McEwen was lying in bed and gasping for air so desperately she was sucking the skin on her throat deep into her chest. Her face was swollen, with an angry blister by her eye.

A staff member was vacuuming around her.

“I couldn’t believe she was as ill as she was, and nobody raised the alarm,” daughter Diane Mellott said of the “absolute shock” she experienced that day in January.

“I called out: ‘How long has she been like this? Why haven’t you done anything?’ ”

McEwen could barely walk. She said to her daughter: “Just leave me here to die.”

Mellott spoke out about her mother’s case Monday in support of a coalition of 16 Alberta seniors groups who issued a position paper calling on government to increase funding for seniors care, create more long-term care spaces and stop contracting out seniors care to for-profit companies like Rutherford Heights, which is operated by All Seniors Care Living Centres.

Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore Kilgannon said Alberta spends 19 per cent less per capita on seniors care than the Canadian average, and must upgrade the care requirements to include more trained professionals.

“There are serious consequences for families, and this could be anybody’s family,” he said. “We have to get this right.”

A recent ruling from the director of Protection for Persons in Care found Mellott’s allegation of abuse at Rutherford Heights Retirement Residence was founded.

“The evidence indicates the acts and omissions of the individuals involved in failing to assess and monitor (McEwen) resulted in a failure to provide the client with adequate medical attention, resulting in serious bodily harm,” acting director Anita Sieben wrote in a Sept. 3 decision. “In my view, these circumstances do constitute ‘abuse’ as defined in the act.”

Sieben directed the facility to make seven of improvements, ranging from a review of staffing levels to policy changes that ensure staff report abuse.

Alberta Health Spokesman Steve Buick said Alberta has fewer seniors, which is why the per capita spending here is lower. Per-bed funding is “more generous than the norm,” he said, at 3.6 hours of direct care staff per resident per day plus another 0.4 hours of specialized care.

The province won’t stop using private contractors.

McEwan’s father nicknamed her “Dicksie” after a cowgirl in his favourite Zane Grey novel. She died in March, several months after that day in January and a stay in hospital.

“This just can’t happen to anybody else’s parent,” Mellott said.

kkleiss@edmontonjournal.com

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