Blog | February 20, 2014

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal
FEBRUARY 20, 2014

EDMONTON - Shauna McHarg hasn’t seen her father in nearly two years because she is banned from his floor at the continuing care home where he lives. She is only allowed to visit her mother there one hour each day. She missed their 50th wedding anniversary.

Hugette Hebert wanted to see her husband’s diaper change so she could assess his condition, but doctors said no. When she refused to leave the room she was banned for a day, and the security guard who escorted her from the building told her that if she continued to cause trouble she could be banned forever and might never see her husband again.James Tucker hid a video camera in his disabled wife’s room and alleges he captured abuse on tape. When he angrily expressed his concerns, he says he was banned from the facility for a month.

Albertans who believe they have been unjustly barred from visiting loved ones at care facilities can face years of appeals that end with a toothless recommendation from Alberta’s Ombudsman.Ultimately, only facility managers have the power to let them back in. “I just want to see my parents, and let my family heal from this horrible, horrible experience,” McHarg said. She believes she was banned because she complained about the treatment her mother received in Covenant Health’s Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre, but the facility won’t tell her precisely why.In a process that took nearly three years, she challenged the ban through Alberta Health Services Patient Relations right up to the provincial Ombudsman, who ruled she was not treated fairly.

She took her case to Alberta’s Information Commissioner, who also ruled in her favour and said Covenant Health should give her the documents that explain why she can’t see her father. Covenant appealed to the Court of Queen’s Bench, and McHarg will plead her case there Thursday. “No one in Covenant Health is accountable. … There is no transparency,” McHarg said. “It shouldn’t be a legal battle to know why these restrictions are imposed.”Covenant Health spokeswoman Charlene Morrison said she can’t comment on a case before the courts but generally, decisions are made in the best interests of patients. Concerns are addressed first by the care team, and escalate to patient relations and then to Clinical Ethics Services, a neutral third party inside Covenant Health.

Hugette Herbert’s late husband, Jack Rudichuk, also lived at a Covenant Health facility, Villa Caritas. A former university professor, Hebert never contested the one-day ban, but after that day she feared raising concerns with staff.“When you’re in that situation, many families are fearful that if they say too much, their loved ones…will suffer the consequences,” Hebert said.“I felt completely disempowered, abused, and afraid to do anything because I was afraid that I would be banned for longer, and that’s what the security guard said.  He said ‘If you don’t comply, you could be banned forever, and you’ll never see your husband again.’ Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta says the existing system is "absolutely unacceptable."

"The families have next to no power in these situations,” he said. “The formal channels that exist are so weak and cumbersome they just don’t know what to do.”The solution is to make Alberta’s new Senior’s Advocate independent and to establish family care councils in law, he said, giving them the authority to swiftly resolve disputes and complaints. A spokesman for Health Minister Fred Horne declined to comment. Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said “in most cases, visitors who are negatively affecting patient or client care can sign a behaviour agreement, which would then allow visits to proceed provided they adhere to that agreement.

“Our Patient Relations department is also available if family members or visitors have concerns. And, a concern can be raised with the Ombudsman. “We must also ensure that we protect our staff from abuse,” Williamson said. Ombudsman spokesman Paul Michna said that while recommendations are not binding, they are delivered to the highest levels of Alberta Health Services and are usually implemented. James Tucker has been banned twice from the Points West Living facility in Grande Prairie, where his wife lives with a degenerative disability. The facility won’t comment on his case, but general manager Ronda Hartegen said in a statement that “the only situations where we consider limiting access to our sites is when the safety or well-being of our employees or residents is in jeopardy.”

“Of the 650 residents Points West Living cares for daily, we only have one situation where a visitor has been restricted access.” Tucker, a miner and valve technician, said he was never a rabble-rouser until his wife went into care. When he was banned, he worried himself sick. “I have power of attorney for my wife, I am supposed to be there, I am her voice,” he said. Now he visits her every day, sometimes more than once. He fears raising his concerns with the facility, but continues nonetheless. “You feel like you’re some kind of criminal for trying to protect your wife,” he said. “But I have to do something; I have to help my wife.”

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