Manitoba

Cancer patient dies alone in Winnipeg hospital after family denied palliative visits

A terminally ill woman died alone last week after St. Boniface hospital staff appear to have misinterpreted Manitoba's COVID-19 restrictions, preventing family from staying by her bedside, despite her being in palliative care.

Cora Krall died just hours after husband's delayed visit was cut short

Cora Krall's family said hospital staff told them they couldn't visit her, because she wasn't in the palliative ward of St. Boniface hospital, which meant the exception to current COVID-19 visitor rules did not apply to her. (Submitted by Carly Lowing)

A terminally ill woman has died alone after hospital staff prevented family from staying by her bedside, despite the fact she was in palliative care.

Cora Krall was admitted to Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital April 24 because of complications from cancer. On May 6, her oncologist signed paperwork deeming her palliative — which should have provided an exemption from the visitor restrictions currently in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While visitor access isn't allowed at acute care facilities in Manitoba, exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis "for compassionate reasons or end of life," Manitoba Shared Health's policy says.

"The doctor said, 'OK, going forward you can see her now'," said Carly Lowing, Krall's daughter. "I knew there would be some limitations."

But for the next two days, Lowing and her father were turned away when they tried to visit Krall.

"I saw her the day she died," Lowing said.

The family said hospital staff told them they still couldn't visit Krall, because she wasn't staying in the hospital's palliative ward, which meant the exception to COVID-19 visitor restrictions did not apply to her.

That's not the case.

Visitor exceptions for compassionate or end-of-life reasons are not limited to any certain area of the hospital, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority confirmed.

Daughter allowed 5-minute visit

After two days of being turned away, Lowing and her father got a call on Friday saying they would be allowed to see Krall, because her condition had worsened.

But when Lowing and her father arrived at the hospital, they were told there had been a mistake, and only Lowing's dad would be allowed a visit.

Lowing negotiated to get five minutes with her mom — the first and only visit she would have with her in hospital.

"I said a few words … hugged her, held her.… Little things, I guess. Tried to talk to her, but she couldn't talk," she said.

"I just told her I loved her," said Lowing. "I didn't know it was going to be the last day."

Carly Lowing and her mother, Cora Krall, during a prior hospital visit during Krall's battle with cancer. Krall ended up back in hospital April 24. The only time Lowing saw her mom after that was for five minutes on the day she died. (Submitted by Carly Lowing)

Her father was allowed to stay alone with his wife, but at 8:30 p.m. a staff member came into the room and told him the charge nurse had ordered that he leave.

"He was sitting with her and holding her hand … and she wasn't doing very well," Lowing said.

"He was like, 'I'm just holding her hand,'" Lowing said, but her father was told he had to leave. 

"He was in shock. He called me and he didn't understand why, considering what we knew was going to happen."

Lowing's father went home and three hours later, Krall died — alone.

"We just really, really wanted to be there with her. It was sad she had to do that by herself."

Health authority following up with facilities

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said for privacy reasons, it can't discuss an individual person's care.

"We are following up with Winnipeg health-care facilities to ensure everyone is interpreting and implementing the provincial visitor guidelines appropriately," a WRHA spokesperson wrote.

The St. Boniface Hospital patient relations office is also reaching out to this family, the spokesperson added.

Anyone with concerns about visiting their loved ones in the health authority hospitals can contact patient relations at 204-926-7825 or clientrelations@wrha.mb.ca, the spokesperson added.

Cora Krall's family said in the multiple conversations they had over hours with numerous staff, no one offered a patient relations option to them.

Province now investigating

The province's chief nursing officer said Wednesday they are investigating what happened.

"We're dealing with people, and we have to keep that person-centred approach to what we are doing — even in the midst of a pandemic," Siragusa said.

While the visitor restrictions are in place to protect patients and staff from COVID-19, they were never meant to be a blanket rule, she said.

"There's always going to be some room for clinical judgment and individual situations that have to be evaluated. That should be what is happening," she said.

WATCH | Cancer patient dies alone in hospital:

A terminally ill woman has died alone after hospital staff prevented family from staying by her bedside, despite the fact she was in palliative care. 2:22

Mixed messages

Lowing said dealing with the pain and stress of losing her mom in those final days was made even worse because she and her father were constantly given different answers on when they would be able to visit.

"It felt like we didn't exist. As soon as she was brought in there, any communication just stopped. It was really hard," she said.

The family reached out to everyone they could at the hospital, and even the premier, to try to figure out how they would be able to see Krall. No one helped, said Lowing.

"I don't want anyone else to have to go through this.… There's got to be something that could be done, while keeping people safe," she said.

"I don't want to make people sick. I'm not asking for special privileges or anything. I want to follow rules.… But we had so much trouble getting to find out what those rules are."

Krall, who Lowing described as quirky, funny, and wonderful, would have celebrated her 67th birthday next week.

"There's just so many other families that are in this situation," her daughter said. "My heart breaks for them now. It's hard not to say goodbye."

Cora Krall would have been 67 years old this month. Her daughter described her as quirky, funny and wonderful. (Submitted by Carly Lowing)

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

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