-Nothing, as long as you are not forced to call it home.
In August 2015 by her own choice my Mother went to a Walk in Medical Clinic to have her medications looked at. The Clinic said she was having a drug interaction and she should go to the hospital to have further testing. Less than 24 hours later the Doctor called me to say her medications had been adjusted and she was fine for discharge. Shortly after that the Doctor called back to inform me that the private assisted living facility my Mother was living in in the SE Calgary neighborhood of McKenzie Towne was refusing to let her back in and they were legally allowed to do so. It has now been almost 4 months since my Mother was unceremoniously informed she no longer had a place to call home.
She has been stuck living at this hospital with no medical reason to be there while she waits for a Long Term Care room to become available. This scenario is so common nowadays that a new category of care had to be defined to describe the status of patients such as my Mother: Alternate Level of Care (ALC). A patient may be designated as ALC if he or she is occupying an acute care hospital bed but is no longer acutely ill and does not require the intensity of resources and services provided in an acute care setting. Currently 15% of all Acute Care hospital beds in Canada are occupied by ALC patients who do not need or want to be there.
Our family continues to advocate to get my Mother out of the hospital and moved into Carewest’s Colonel Belcher building, the same facility my Father lives in. (see previous blog posts for details)
Before I continue I would like to make it clear that the hospital itself is a fine facility and no doubt it’s Doctors and Nurses achieve miracles on a daily basis on behalf of the sick and injured. The staff are friendly and kind to my Mother. Everyone does their best but no amount of smiles and professional check in’s can smooth over the failure of health care policies that have left her stranded here. Why are private assisted living facilities that are licenced by Alberta Health Services allowed to kick out their residents with little to no oversight or scrutiny? How is it that a province like Alberta that has experienced many decades of wealth and prosperity has allowed itself to have such a massive deficit of long term care beds?
Speaking personally on the real life consequence of this failure of the seniors care system I would like to share some observations about what my Mother has to deal with day after day as she does her best to face the challenges of living her life inside a hospital. It is fair to assume that the 7,500 other Canadians who are also stuck living as ALC patients in hospitals across the country are faced with similar scenarios.
My Mom is in a shared room with 3 other people. She has mentioned to me numerous times how uncomfortable she feels about sharing the same bathroom with the men in her room. The people in the other 3 beds come and go as strangers, all of whom are facing their own crises. Her part of the room has no window and a curtain as the divider between her and the person beside her. The closet is not designed for long term stays. It is narrow and half sized and would be most suitable for night clothes and a dressing gown, but not for a persons wardrobe. Though this may seem like a trivial point, part of what keeps my Mother going is making the effort to look nice. Like many ladies of her generation she gets her hair set once a week, she keeps up with the style and gets dressed in her nice outfits every day. The day she gives up and decides it is okay to stay in a hospital gown is the day we start to lose her.
There is no room for a reclining chair in her ‘room’ so she sits in her motorized power chair from morning to night. When she needs to put her feet up to prevent swelling she has to do so in the bed. Lights are always on, the room is full of extraneous sound from beeping machines, other residents TV’s, staff sending and receiving pages and overhead announcements. The shared room is always busy with a round the clock stream of Nurses, Doctors, Therapists, LPN’s, Cleaners, Volunteers and visitors.
My Mother says she has to do her ‘book work’ (going through her mail, reviewing bills, writing cheques etc.) by laying her paper work out on her bed. She also says she goes down the hallway to an unoccupied area when she is feeling down because she is embarrassed to have others hear her cry. She eats 3 meals a day, every day in her room as hospitals are not designed for patient interaction. This is the same reason there is no recreation program for her to take part in. She lives between the strange reality of having zero privacy and a high level of social isolation.
I asked my Mom to tell me what her days are like. Her response is that every day is the same, boring with nothing to do. She drives up and down the hallways aimlessly trying to pass the time. Alarmingly at one point she had befriended a using OxyContin addict. Fortunately she stopped talking about that person so I can only assume she was discharged.
These living conditions are starting to take their toll on my Mother. For the first month she was so shocked about her sudden and forced homelessness that she assumed there must be people in charge who would fix things as soon as possible. In the second month she was becoming increasingly nervous and worried that she was being monitored, therefore she and all her family members needed to be on ‘best behaviour’. By the third month she was fixated on her husband and feeling guilty and frustrated that he was living (with a terminal diagnoses) at Carewest’s Colonel Belcher Long Term Care facility 35km across the city and she was only able to visit him once during the week with the assistance of a paid companion. (Her routine does improve most weekends when family visits and gets the two of them together and out and about in the city).
Now my Mother is starting to give up hope. She feels helpless with no ability to change her situation, angry at the Assisted Living facility that barred their doors to her and depressed by the growing realisation that she is stuck living with the consequences of a health care system that does not seem to have any answers. Even though the representatives of Alberta Health Services seem nice and genuinely concerned they do not seem to be able to solve this problem.
None of what I have written so far addresses the most serious consequence of all. Healthy people can get sick in hospitals. They are surrounded by illness and exposed to potentially virulent hospital bugs. Canadian studies have identified that people like my Mom have a much higher risk of getting seriously ill and dying simply because they are living in a hospital rather than living in a facility that is more appropriate to their needs. This is somewhat paradoxical considering that the private Assisted Living facility that imposed this move on my Mother justified their decision on the grounds that this was the best thing for her well being and quality of life.
As always I end my posts to this blog where I started. I want to find a way to reunite my parents and hope that by bringing public attention to their situation and the overall crisis facing seniors throughout the country my Mother can get out of the hospital and move into my Fathers facility.
I also want to join the demands that a National Seniors Strategy be prioritized by the Federal Government. The Canadian Medical Association is advocating for this through their website http://www.demandaplan.ca/ If you have two more minutes take a look at this video rant by Dr. Chris Simpson. He makes a compelling argument that sums up everything I just tried to say.
Even though it feels hopeless at times, my advice to the many thousands of Canadians faced with similar circumstances as my family is to keep on speaking up and keep on keeping on.