Health minister pledges to help family get answers in autistic brother's death

Manitoba's health minister has vowed to help the family of Ronald Wilderman, 57, get answers about the circumstances surrounding the autistic man's death while he was in the care of a company hired by Winnipeg's health authority.

Death of Ronald Wilderman, 57, prompted critical incident investigation

Family wants to know why autistic brother died in care of agency

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

6 years ago
A Winnipeg family is demanding more information about how their autistic brother died while in the care of a company hired by the local health authority. 3:37

Manitoba's health minister has vowed to help a family get answers about the circumstances surrounding their autistic brother's death while he was in the care of a company hired by Winnipeg's health authority.

"I want to work with the RHA [regional health authority] to find out what exactly happened," Sharon Blady told the CBC News I-Team on Thursday.

"If somebody dropped the ball, I want to know what happened, why, and how we make sure it doesn't happen again."

Blady offered her condolences to the family of Ronald Wilderman, 57, who was found dead in his apartment on May 31 from complications arising from his diabetes.

"I want the professionals that are engaged directly with family to care for folks the way they would care for a family member," she said.

Manitoba Health Minister Sharon Blady is offering her condolences to the family of Ronald Wilderman, who was found dead in his apartment on May 31 from complications arising from diabetes. (CBC)
Wilderman's sister, Elizabeth Rosenberg, said the family understood that Teskey & Associates was contracted by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to make sure her brother, who had Asperger syndrome, was eating properly and taking his diabetes medication.

The health authority declared his death a critical incident. Manitoba's legislation defines a critical incident as "an unintended event that occurs when health services are provided to an individual and results in a consequence to him or her that is serious and undesired" such as death.

It's unclear when exactly Wilderman's death was classified as a critical incident.

The family has been unable to get an explanation from the company or the WRHA about the circumstances surrounding his death.

In October, the health authority told the family they would have to file requests under freedom of information laws. But they had been asking both the company and the health authority for answers since his death.

"My brother was diabetic and he needed his medication. So I started asking when's the last time he had his medication? When was the last time he was seen? When was the last time he was checked on?" Rosenberg told the CBC News I-Team in an interview.

Received little information about company

Rosenberg said she has received very little information from Teskey & Associates.

"There's so many unanswered questions about his care. After his death, even when we went to the apartment, he had no sheets on his bed. What kind of care is this?" she asked.

Rosenberg said the autopsy did not determine how long he had been dead before he was discovered. However, she said the the report did note his body was mildly decomposed.

The family said Wilderman had been in the care of Teskey & Associates for more than a year when he died.

Ronald Wilderman loved animals and sports stats, and he was a voracious reader, according to his sister. (Family photo)
Little information about the company is publicly available. It doesn't have a website. Last year, Family Services gave $1.48 million to Teskey & Associates Inc. to provide community-based supports to adults with intellectual disabilities.

Its president, Harris Teskey, did serve on the board of Asperger Manitoba in 2012. Teskey did not reply to CBC's repeated attempts to speak with him.

Ronald Wilderman was an animal lover, a voracious reader, and a sports fan who could rattle off stats like a pro. He was fascinated by coins from other countries and could quote foreign exchange rates. He was also greatly interested in Canadian politics.

Wilderman lived with his mother most of the time until he was 40. A series of attempts to place him in alternative living arrangements failed. For a time, he chose to live at the Salvation Army before finally taking to the streets.

In December 2013, fearing for Wilderman's well-being, Rosenberg applied to the courts to secure a mental health order for her brother.

Rosenberg said her brother then spent 11 days at the Health Sciences Centre to stabilize his diabetes.

At that point, Rosenberg said Wilderman was diagnosed as globally incompetent.

"What that meant was he couldn't make decisions for himself, he couldn't be responsible for his behaviour," she said.

The family applied to the Public Guardian and Trustee, which then became Wilderman's legal guardian.

Placed in Sherbrook Street apartment complex

According to notes taken by Wilderman's mother, Teskey & Associates placed Wilderman in a suite in an apartment complex on Sherbrook Street.

He called his mother two days later because he had no food. His mother kept notes that detailed infestation problems in the suite, concerns about a lack of supervision and the family's numerous attempts to contact Teskey & Associates about their concerns and the need to develop a plan for Wilderman. A care plan was never shared with the family.

Elizabeth Rosenberg has many unanswered questions around her brother's death. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)
The Sunday night that Wilderman was found dead in his suite by Teskey & Associates staff, it was unclear to Rosenberg when he was last seen alive.

"He was allegedly seen the Thursday night prior to his death," she said. He was supposed to be seen on a daily basis.

"My brother was in the care of Teskey & Associates. They were responsible for providing him with his medication and his meals," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said she learned later from various WRHA employees that Wilderman had been refusing his medication, but there were conflicting reports about how long that had been an issue.  

"We acknowledge he was difficult and needed care; that was why he was in their care," she said.

Despite meeting with the WRHA, Rosenberg said she doesn't know if the company had or followed any protocol when her brother stopped taking his medication or whether he was being checked in on on a daily basis.

Ron Wilderman had Asperger syndrome and was unable to care for himself. (Family photo)
"Unfortunately because of this veil of secrecy — call it through legislation, call it whatever you want — I don't know what they did or didn't do."

Her calls to Harris Teskey since her brother's death have gone unanswered.

"I don't know that I'm ever going to get the information that we want. Our family needs closure, my mother needs closure," she said, adding that the lack of answers has her concerned.

"Teskey & Associates are caring for people like my brother that have no advocates, that have no one to speak on their behalf."

In a statement to CBC News, a WRHA spokesperson said, "We want to offer our condolences to the family and invite them to reach out to us personally if they have further questions or concerns they would like to address with regards to the WRHA's involvement in this case…. We have met with the family and have shared with them any and all information we are able to provide at this time and as outlined by legislative requirements."

The health authority says it has worked with Teskey & Associates since 2006. It wouldn't answer the I-Team's questions about how many clients the company serves, nor how much it is paid.

To contact the CBC I-Team about this story email or call the confidential tip line at 204-788-3744.


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