Man's overdose death 'didn't need to happen,' say parents

The parents of a man who died of a suspected fentanyl overdose just hours after being released from Health Sciences Centre are questioning the lack of resources in place for people who are struggling with addiction and seeking treatment.

Wesley Elwick died at Main Street Project facility after being treated in hospital for overdose

The parents of Wesley Elwick, who died of an overdose at a transitional housing facility in October, are questioning if enough was done to prevent his death. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The parents of a man who died of a suspected fentanyl overdose just hours after being released from Health Sciences Centre are questioning the systems in place for people struggling with addiction and seeking treatment.

Wesley Elwick spent two days in the intensive care unit where he was treated for a nearly fatal drug overdose. When he was released from hospital, he was put in a cab and sent to Mainstay — a transitional housing facility run by Main Street Project.

He died in his room there sometime between 9 p.m and noon the next day.

"There seemed to be a disconnect between him being discharged and being sent to Mainstay and I'm just wondering if there should be something in place when someone is leaving the hospital, not just being put in a cab," said Peter Elwick, Wesley's father.

Wesley Elwick's parents say their son had just completed a 10-day detoxification program at Health Sciences Centre when he left the hospital on Friday, October 28.
Wesley Elwick was 25 at the time of his death. He had been struggling with his addictions for years, but was seeking treatment. (Supplied)

The 25-year-old was found overdosing just hours later near Portage Place mall in downtown Winnipeg. His parents say he was revived by paramedics after they used the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

"He just got right out of detox and went and used and overdosed," said his mother, Kelly Hes.

Elwick spent the weekend in the hospital and on Monday his mother received a phone call telling her Elwick was being released. She says hospital staff told her Elwick was being put in a cab to go to Mainstay, where he had arranged to stay while trying to get clean.

"The addiction had him by the throat," said Hes. "But he never gave up trying and he did want to get better.".

After arriving at Mainstay, a facility with 34 beds and just one staff member on duty, Elwick made his way to his room and never left.

The last known time anyone spoke to Elwick was around 9 p.m.on Halloween. His mother says he spoke to his boss on the phone about his return to work.

The next morning, staff noticed he was not around and went to check on him in his room, where he was found non-responsive.

"It just didn't need to happen," said Hes. "He's 25 years old. He's supposed to be just starting out in life and here he is, he's gone."

Hes says she asked the staff at HSC not to release her son because she was worried he would overdose again. She questions why he was released so soon after being taken off of the ventilator and why he was put in a cab and sent to Mainstay.

"I don't want to sit and blame anybody, because ultimately Wesley made a choice to do what he did, but I think if there had been more help [things could have been different]," she said.

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority responds

The WRHA said the hospital followed standard procedure for Elwick's release.

"We feel deeply for Mr. Elwick's family and are very sorry for their loss," an emailed statement said. 

"In Mr. Elwick's case, the discharge planning protocol was followed, including notification of family, by the patient, of impending discharge, arrangement of follow up appointment with a doctor, arrangement for transportation from the hospital and confirmation with Mainstay that Mr. Elwick's room was available."

The health authority said programs like Mainstay are the key to a patient's path from hospital to community. 

Addictions facilities understaffed

It's not known when or where Elwick acquired the drugs but his parents believe he picked them up after leaving the hospital and before going back to Mainstay.

"We had only known him at Mainstay for a few short hours before he went out and sought his dealer," said Adrienne Dudek, director of transitional housing for Main Street Project.

Dudek says it's common practice to have just one staff member on duty. The facility is not locked and people can come and go as they wish.

Mainstay provides housing and support for people who need a place to stay for a variety of reasons. Patrons can be referred from various places, including detox programs, but background information shared by residents is voluntary.
Elwick died in his room (similar to this one above) at Mainstay, a transitional housing facility run by Main Street Project. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Last week, Main Street Project staff went before the executive policy committee at city hall to make a case for additional funding, so they could hire another staff member for the evening shift.

They shared Elwick's story with council members hoping to illustrate the need for more funding after their initial request was denied.

Dudek says having more staff on shift might have made a difference.

"I think on that particular evening our care plan could have been much different if we had a different staffing component," she said.

Mainstay has since made changes to the intake procedures and are hoping to work with other organizations to improve communication when people are being referred or transferred there.
Adrienne Dudek at Main Street project says changes have been made to their intake procedures following Elwick's death. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"I think that's the piece we are working on, I think we're not all the way there yet and unfortunately it takes situations like this to really drive it home," said Dudek.

They have begun to develop a new protocol specifically for patrons with addictions issues. They are calling it Wesley's Rule.

"If somebody is seeking treatment, and not housing after detox, their care plan looks very very different than just anybody else just seeking housing," said Dudek.

"We are going to go the extra mile to make sure that those care plans are in place and the follow up and follow through care catches everybody," she said.

System needs to change

Elwick's parents want others to know that addiction can happen to anyone. They say their son had a bright future and excelled at everything he tried to do. He was an honour roll student in high school, a gifted athlete and a generous man who always wanted to help people.

"Whatever he did it would have been fantastic, but unfortunately this was just too big a hill to climb," said his father.

Elwick's parents say they would like to see changes made to the system and are open to the idea of an inquest to find out what could have been done differently.

"Maybe through an inquest, the same set of circumstances wouldn't happen again," said Peter. "There has to be another step before just going to a sober house, because the sober houses are understaffed as well.

"If we maintain the status quo you can almost guarantee it will happen again."

Elwick struggled to beat his addiction several times, but long wait lists for treatments and a lack of spaces available made the battle that much harder.

Elwick's parents worry the recent increase in overdoses from fentanyl will only add to an already burdened system.

"It's only going to get worse. Something has to happen otherwise it's just going to be one tragedy after another," said Peter.

"It's too late for Wesley, but it's not too late if they can change things," said Hes.