Edmonton

83-year-old Albertan dies after walking out of long-term care facility and into the cold

Two investigations are examining how an 83-year-old woman with dementia died after leaving a central Alberta nursing home on a frigid November day.

Investigations launched in death of Alzheimer’s patient with history of wandering

Smiling older man and woman pose with a table full of cakes.
Kay Green and her husband Andy were longtime vendors at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market in Edmonton. Kay, a resident of a long-term care facility in Viking, Alta., died on Nov. 29 after wandering outside. (Submitted by Patricia Collins)

Two investigations are examining how an 83-year-old woman with dementia died after leaving a central Alberta nursing home on a frigid November day.

On the afternoon of Nov. 28, Kay Green was found alive, lying in the snow between two nearby homes in Viking, 135 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

Temperatures at the time hovered around –12 C but the wind chill made it feel like –24, according to Environment Canada.

Green, who had Alzheimer's, had lived at the Extendicare Viking facility for two years. When she was found, she was wearing only sweatpants, a cotton long-sleeved shirt, a zip-up sweater, one sock and no shoes, according to Patricia Collins, a close friend who had been given Green's power of attorney.

"[Extendicare] called me and they said, 'Do you have Kay with you?' And I said no," Collins told CBC.

"They all knew she had the tendency to run," she said. "That should be all over her file, that you've got to keep an eye on her."

Woman dies after wandering away from care home in frigid weather

2 months ago
Duration 2:04
The tragic death of an Alberta woman with dementia who wandered away from her care home in frigid temperatures has prompted an investigation by the provincial health authority and questions from her friend about how this could have happened.

Collins received the call from Extendicare staff at about 12:40 p.m. Collins said Green was found one hour later. 

She died the next morning in the Viking Health Centre.

Wander-management bracelet

Based in Ontario, Extendicare operates or provides services to more than 100 long-term care homes and retirement communities across Canada. 

Alberta Health Services lists Extendicare Viking among its long-term care facilities for seniors who have been assessed as no longer able to be cared for at home or in assisted living. According to AHS, "long-term care facilities are designed specifically for individuals with complex, unpredictable medical needs." 

Older grey-haired women sits with her arms crossed.
Kay Green wore a WanderGuard bracelet, an electronic wearable device designed to protect memory-care residents from leaving a facility. (Submitted by Patricia Collins)

After suffering a stroke about two years earlier, Green had lost her ability to speak and communicate. She wore a wander-management bracelet that would activate an alarm if she left the building, Collins said.

In a statement, Extendicare confirmed it is conducting its own investigation into the incident. The statement did not address how Green was able to leave the building undetected.

"This is a tragic situation and we continue to be focused on supporting our community and on our investigation to better understand what happened," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

"We are remaining in touch and providing support to the family friend, as well as to our staff, who are all grieving this loss of someone they knew and cared for."

An emailed statement from AHS said: "We have started the review and our goal is to do it expediently and also making sure that it's comprehensive."

'Her foot was black'

On the day Green went missing, the temperature at Environment and Climate Change Canada's Holden weather station, about 35 kilometres northwest of Viking, was hovering around –12 C but wind gusts that topped 40 km/h made it feel twice as cold. 

Viking RCMP said they were called at 1:04 p.m. about Green's disappearance — more than 20 minutes after Collins had been contacted.

RCMP said Green was found before police arrived. She was taken to the Viking Health Centre.

Collins said she wasn't prepared for the extent of her friend's injuries.

"I came into the hospital room, I saw her right foot sticking up at the edge of the bed and it was completely black. I hugged her and I kissed her, and I said, 'I'm so glad you're alive. I'm so glad you're OK,' and she smiled," Collins said.

Green was responding energetically. Collins stayed with her overnight. In the morning, when nurses came in to check her vital signs, Collins went out to get coffee and run a few errands. When she came back, Green's condition had worsened.

"They said, 'You need to come and be with your mom.' They kept telling me she was my mom and I didn't correct them. I didn't care," Collins said.

"I told her that I loved her and I went through everybody's names in the family and told her they all loved her … I was holding her hand and I was there for her as I would want somebody to be there for me." 

While she was there, Green began coughing and spitting up blood. Collins said she died shortly after.

Woman with sad face flips through a photo album.
Patricia Collins was a close friend of Green’s and empowered to make legal and health-care decisions on her behalf. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

'Kay was the spark'

Kay and her husband Andy operated Andy's Country Kitchen, selling cakes from a stall at a popular Edmonton farmers' market.

That's where Collins first witnessed Kay Green's kindness and generosity. 

"She would bring clothing to the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market and just hand it out to anybody who looked like they needed it," Collins remembered.

The couple came to live with Collins, her husband and their five children. It was only supposed to be for a few months but they ended up staying for eight.

"And I had no problem with it. They could have stayed forever," Collins said.

"In a dark room, Kay was the spark that lit it right up, no matter what she did."

Decorations on the branches of a Christmas tree.
The Greens lived with Collins for eight months. Patricia Collins says the couple will be missed this Christmas. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

After Kay's stroke, Andy Green moved into an apartment at Vialta Lodge, a supportive living facility in Viking. He died in March of this year.

Collins said Green and her husband became part of the family and losing her has been heartbreaking.

"This will be a difficult Christmas for us. She would have been 84 in January, and we will still put up her stocking and ornament."

Green's stroke was the impetus for Collins to move her to a long-term care facility where she would have constant care.

Collins said she wants Extendicare to be held accountable to ensure other residents and their families do not experience similar tragedies.

"I thought she was fine. I thought she was safe. I had every confidence [in the facility]," Collins said. 

"They have to watch her 24/7, that's the requirement. And they failed her. They failed her miserably."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katarina Szulc is a reporter for CBC News in Edmonton. She previously worked at CityNews 1130 in Vancouver. You can email story ideas to Katarina.Szulc@cbc.ca.

With files from Kory Siegers

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