British Columbia

Woman with disability dies alone at B.C. hospital amid COVID-19 restrictions

The brother of a 40-year-old woman with cerebal palsy says she died alone after Peace Arch Hospital failed to tell them that her health was rapidly declining and didn't allow a caregiver to be with her during her three-day stay at the facility.

Ariis Knight's family says she died shortly after they were notified her condition had deteriorated

Ariis Knight, 40, died alone at Peace Arch Hospital in Metro Vancouver because caregivers were not allowed due to COVID-19 bans on visitors. (David Knight)

The brother of a woman with cerebal palsy is angry she died without family or a caregiver at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., last Saturday because she couldn't communicate without their help.

Fraser Health's website says visitors are restricted to essential visits at all of its sites to minimize the risk of introducing the coronavirus during a worldwide pandemic.

David Knight said his sister, Ariis, was transported from her group home in South Surrey to the hospital on Wednesday after she suffered breathing difficulties.

He said she tested negative for the COVID-19 virus and should have been allowed to have a support worker with her.

"I don't want people that have disabilities to be put in the same situation my sister was in. My sister didn't need to die alone and she did. That is the angering part of everything," David said.

"There was nothing that was stopping anybody from being with her except apparently the hospital.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Knight's family said Fraser Health has been in touch and it has been told the health authority is looking into what happened.

Knight, 36, who works as a nurse in Kelowna, said hospital staff left his father a voicemail about his sister's rapidly declining health on Saturday night just before 8 p.m. She died by 9:45 p.m., as he was getting ready to travel to see her.

The CEO of Semiahmoo House Society that ran the group home where Ariis Knight lived, said staff members were not allowed to go into the hospital to support her.

Doug Tennant said Knight had lived there for a decade. He wanted to send someone to be with her while she was undergoing medical treatment, but was refused.

Ariis Knight lived in a group home run by the Semiahmoo House Society for ten years in South Surrey. (David Knight)

"Prior to COVID-19, our practice was always that if a person that we support in a group home goes to hospital, we deploy staff to be with that person 24/7 in order to assist the person in communication, to assist the person in informed decision making as well assist the person with their physical needs."

In a statement to CBC News, Fraser Health said acute care staff typically ask a patient's family for additional support if they feel they can't communicate with the patient adequately.

"In this case, medical staff determined that additional support for communication was not required. When it became clear that this patient was coming to the end of their life, we proactively reached out to have the family come to hospital," the statement read.

"We are saddened to learn of the passing of our patient and we have offered our condolences to the family."

'She passed away without people who loved her'

Tennant said her death and the surrounding circumstances have been difficult for caregivers to deal with.

"She was a very vivacious young lady and I say young — she's actually 40 years old — that she was a lot younger than some of the other people that we support in our group homes. Very sharp dresser. A smile that really lightens up a room."

She didn't have full use of her legs or arms and used a wheelchair. Tennant said she communicated without speaking and her caregivers could interpret if she was happy or sad.

Tennant said Knight's last moments should have been with people who cared about her.

"She passed away without people who loved her and knew her and could have been with her telling her that she was going to be missed and that she was a valuable human being on this earth and that's really sad," said Tennant.

Support workers can be allowed

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday there are exceptions for restrictions in long-term care and hospitals to ensure people with disabilities who have problems communicating have support.

"My expectation is that there is accommodation being made. It can be very difficult sometimes and of course people need to wear appropriate protective equipment in that setting so that both the health-care providers and the patients and the support people are protected," said Henry.