Manitoba

Father 'fell through a whole bunch of cracks' at Winnipeg hospital, prominent doctor says

A prominent Manitoba doctor who's now practising in California says her father experienced inadequate care at a Winnipeg hospital.

Winnipeg health officials say they're working with Dr. Jen Gunter's family to address concerns she raised

Dr. Jen Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist, an author and the star of CBC Gem's Jensplaining. She wonders if she can't get information from a hospital, how is the average person supposed to. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

A prominent Manitoba doctor who's now practising in California says her father experienced inadequate care at a Winnipeg hospital, and her family waited nearly a month to hear from a physician about his status.

Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said her 90-year-old father, Derek Gunter, was admitted to Victoria General Hospital at the end of December with pneumonia and sepsis, but she and her brother couldn't get information from a doctor until the end of January.

"Between the two of us, between him going to visit, between calling, leaving messages, we could not get one piece of information," she told CBC News.

"Nothing was taken seriously."

Gunter's father was admitted to Victoria General Hospital at the end of December, but it took nearly a month to get information from a physician about his condition. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Gunter, who is also a prominent author and the star of the CBC Gem show Jensplaining, said she wanted to hear how her father was doing and give important medical history to the team caring for him, but whenever she called, she was told the person in charge wasn't around to talk.

Her father had bouts of delirium and needed his children's help making decisions about his health and his next steps, she said. Her brother visited their dad in the evenings and tried to get information, but the doctors were gone by then, she said.

"I was absolutely unempowered and worried about my dad," she said. "It was just really sad and horrible."

It took nearly a month for her father to see specialists, she said.

At one point, he went into respiratory arrest and needed to be resuscitated, she said. He also developed bedsores.

"My dad fell through a whole bunch of cracks."

Laurie Thompson from the Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety says families should be involved in the care of a patient as much as the patient wants them to be. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

In addition to the hospital, she called the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and an elder abuse hotline, but she wasn't able to have a conversation with the health region or hospital staff until she started posting about the problems on Twitter, where she has 280,000 followers.

"I'm a physician who trained in Manitoba and I'm pretty well-known, and the fact that I can't get any information from Victoria Hospital, how could anyone else get information," she said.

"It was ridiculous what I had to do to get someone to speak to me."

A spokesperson for the WRHA said in an email statement that they wouldn't speak about the health conditions of a patient for privacy reasons.

"That said, care providers and leadership have been in contact with Ms. Gunter and are aware of the concerns she has raised. We are working with her and the rest of her family and the patient to address the concerns she has raised," the statement said.

"The best way for patients or their family members to reach us to discuss concerns about their care is through the patient relations offices at the hospitals, or centrally through the WRHA client relations co-ordinator. People can access this service regardless of where they live."

Communication 'critically important'

Laurie Thompson, the executive director of the Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety, said health-care professionals must communicate well with both patients and their family members, as well as provide adequate medical care.

"Patients and families know each other well. There's a trust relationship there. That's why it's really important that families be involved, to the degree that patients want them to be," she said.

Sometimes poor communication can lead to an event or circumstance that can end with a patient experiencing harm, Thompson said.

"Communication is cited as a very common factor when it comes to patient incidents, so it's critically important … particularly in a hospital setting, where there's complex care underway and lots of people involved."

Gunter said her father was depressed and not caring for himself after his wife died six months ago. He had fallen a number of times and been in and out of hospital.

She believes more could have been done to piece together his medical history.

"The emergency department that he's been going to multiple times, I do hold them responsible for his deterioration," she said.

"Nobody seems to have cared enough to put all the pieces together."

Gunter said since her conversation with upper management at the hospital, her father has seen specialists and signs have been placed around his room reminding health-care providers to turn him to avoid bedsores.

"The changes that have happened now in my dad's room 29 days later, or 30 days later … these things should've been there at the beginning," she said.

'An absolute mess'

Gunter believes the health-care restructuring in Manitoba, including closing emergency rooms in favour of urgent care centres, is partly to blame for her father's situation.

"It seems to me the whole way the hospital system has been restructured in Winnipeg is an absolute mess," she said.

The changes at Winnipeg hospitals are part of an overhaul recommended in a report commissioned by the former NDP government in 2015 and completed by a team led by Nova Scotia-based consultant Dr. David Peachey.

The province announced in 2016 that half of the city's emergency departments would close to consolidate emergency care at Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface and Grace hospitals.

The revamp was meant to create operating efficiencies and cut wait times.

But Gunter believes that move is hurting patients.

"If this can happen to my dad, this can happen to anybody. People do not deserve to be treated like this."

About the Author

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

With files from Wendy Parker