Sylvia Phillips

The family of Sylvia Phillips is spending $1,000 per week to augment the care she is receiving at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon. (Facebook)

The family of an elderly woman with dementia is paying $1,000 per week to augment the care she is receiving on an acute-care ward at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.

Sylvia Phillips has been in hospital for almost two months.

The situation was raised by the Opposition NDP in the provincial Legislature Tuesday who say there is a chronic shortage of staff hospitals across Saskatchewan.

Leon Phillips noted that family members exhausted all of their available vacation days to spend time with their mother, helping her with daily nutrition and other personal care needs.

Leon Phillips posts a note about his experience on Facebook:

"I want to give you a little more idea of how stressful an acute care environment is for someone with advanced dementia and why we have been going through hell these past two months.

Up until now, I have been holding back for fear of sounding like I was criticizing the nursing staff. This is the last thing we want to do. My sister and I were at that hospital with Mom everyday for almost 7 weeks, anywhere from 7 - 10 hours a day and we had the privilege of watching the dedicated and hardworking nursing staff in action, doing their very best with what they have been given: truly inspiring!

One of the golden rules for managing dementia clients is complete regularity and calm in their environment. The smallest change or disruption to their schedule or environment can cause agitation and potential aggression.

For the 7 weeks that Mom was in St. Paul's hospital she shared with 3 other patients a small space originally designed for children. There was barely 4 feet between each bed. She had one or two new room mates every second or so day. We lost count of the numbers that passed through that room.

Mom had new nurses almost every day for both the day shift and night shifts. She was constantly being questioned and moved by strange new people. The last Sunday that she was in St. Paul's she broke down sobbing in front of my sister, saying, "I'm afraid of everybody."

Acute care staff did not have time for proper toileting. For someone like Mom, it takes time and regularity to walk her to the toilet and give her the time she requires. But without assistance, she would remain in bed, soil herself and then would refuse to get out of bed or cry in shame.

There were typically only two physiotherapists for about thirty geriatric patients on Mom's floor. We finally decided to go ahead and walk Mom everyday without nursing help.

Mom was fully ambulatory before being hospitalized so it was hard to see her strapped in a wheelchair because she was not allowed to walk and wander as she would be able to do in a lockdown dementia unit.

There are not enough aids to help with the enormous task of feeding. If we were not there at meal times, Mom would not be properly fed. On a number of occasions we were not able to make it to the hospital a suppertime: her meal had arrived, no one had helped her eat and her meal was taken away untouched.

At bedtime, acute care staff did not have enough time to meet the needs of someone with dementia. We told the staff to pull the curtain around Mom's bed, and let her crawl into bed by herself. But instead of doing that, several nurses would often try to force Mom into bed within a short period of time to accommodate their tight schedule. We arrived one evening to find four nurses using a lift to get her into bed. This made Mom very agitated and frightened.

We have had to provide almost everything in terms of Mom's personal care. But now that we have had to return to work after weeks of looking after her in the hospital we have hired private care at a cost of roughly $1000 per week. On top of this, Mom is being billed for Long Term Care fees while in hospital.

The photo shows Mom in the bed that she lived in for 7 weeks."

Phillips said the staff at the hospital were often too busy to provide feeding assistance and found that if family was not available, his mother did not get to eat.

He also says that the staff he encountered were dedicated and hard working, but there were not enough, and many lacked specific training for elderly patients with dementia.

"More staff and more staff with specific long-term care training [are needed]," Phillips said. "To meet these client needs while they're in the hospital."

The province's health minister said he was not familiar with the specifics of the case, but insisted there are more people working in hospitals now, compared to a few years ago.

However, Dustin Duncan said there is no reason a patient should not be helped to eat, or get to the bathroom.

Phillips said the situation facing his mother in hospital has made her life more difficult than ever.

"There was constant noise, confusion," he said, noting that patients with dementia need an environment that is regular and familiar. "[There were] new and strange people talking to her and moving her. Extremely upsetting."

In addition to the family's paying for private care to assist their mother, the woman is being billed for long-term care in the hospital.

The NDP has been highlighting issues in Saskatchewan's health care system, especially in care homes and hospitals.

The province recently announced that a special fund had been created to address urgent needs in health care.