Vernon and North Okanagan
Seniors death should be wake up call
Aug 26, 2013 / 9:32 am
A tragedy at the Polson residential care facility in Vernon should serve as a wakeup call for the Ministry of Health, says Martha Lewis, Executive Director of the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support (BC CEAS).
John Furman, age 95, is charged with murder in the death of his 85-year-old roommate, William May, as a result of an alleged assault that took place at the Polson care home August 18.
“This is a huge tragedy for both families. Unfortunately, it takes this sort of disaster for government to move forward more quickly,” said Lewis, who is also a practicing lawyer in the field of Elder Law.
An aging population is something the whole world is dealing with, Lewis says, and society is going to have to learn to cope with this increased longevity.
“Violence can happen, and often these people have never been violent before. Causing death is rare but it’s happening more than it used to,” said Lewis.
President of the BC Nurses Union, Debra McPherson, says the province’s focus for long-term care has been to reduce staffing levels hoping that nothing disastrous will happen.
Both Lewis and McPherson agree that the current province-wide trend in health care has been to reduce the number of Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses in favour of care aides, who have less training and education.
Reduced staffing is compounded by the increased number of elderly clients who have complex degenerative illnesses.
“It’s really a recipe for disaster,” said McPherson.
Dr. Paul Dagg is the Medical Director for Tertiary Mental Health at Interior Health. Although a tragedy for all involved, he says, this type of situation is extremely rare.
“These events happen. But they are rare and they can happen anywhere. The team at Polson has a high level of expertise in dealing with (complex psychiatric) behaviours,” says Dagg.
Dementia occurs in 14 per cent of seniors over the age of 71, says Dagg. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, often accompanied by behavioural and psychiatric symptoms.
“Dementia affects the way we normally process things in our environment. It affects our ability to inhibit responses, and can make us highly sensitive to changes in our environment,” he said.
Dementia-related behaviours range in both type and severity, he says, which makes the disease unpredictable.
He says Interior Health has shown leadership by introducing a program called P.I.E.C.E.S, which trains all care facility staff to detect and respond to the things that can aggravate psychiatric behaviours.
He admits they have been working on implementation for the past few years, and there is still much that can be done to expand the program.
“Whenever there’s an event like this, we analyze the situation to see what we can learn from it,” said Dagg.
“At the end of the day, it’s about helping caregivers respond to and better understand these types of illnesses.”
BC Ombudsperson Kim Carter released a report in February of 2012 outlining 143 findings and 176 recommendations for seniors care in the province. Official opposition seniors critic, Katrine Conroy, says too few of those recommendations have been implemented.
Among the changes most needed, she says, are better reporting requirements that will include resident-to-resident violence. There is currently no requirement for care homes to report violence between patients.
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