'The system let us down': Manitoba family speaks out about horrendous home care experience

For Lynn White, trusting her 86-year-old father in the care of home care aides was supposed to be the best of both worlds. Getting the care he needed post surgery while also enjoying the comforts of his own home.

Portage la Prairie family says missed visits by home care aides put lives of seniors at risk

Lynn White pores over documents and notes she's kept regarding her father's care, or lack of, by home care aides. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

For Lynn White, trusting her 86-year-old father to the care of home care aides was supposed to be the best of both worlds. Getting the care he needed post surgery, while also enjoying the comforts of his own home.

But it was anything but that for the Portage la Prairie, Man., family, who say the system is putting lives at risk. 

"The system let us down. It failed us," White said. "It's failing people to this day and we know that."

White's father suffered brain damage after a fall in November 2015 and was allowed to return home six weeks later with the help of health care aides. They were supposed to make four daily visits to help her dad with meals, bathing and medications. 

She was assured a plan was in place for his care, but not long after he moved home to his apartment at Rotary Park Senior's Housing, troubles with his care started. 

Between Dec. 16 and 27, 2015, White said aides missed five visits. The problems continued for the next eight months. 

"[There] were missed weekends, he was not on the schedules. The girls [aides] showed up by chance," White said. "It was just on and on really with almost every weekend we had some missed ones or somebody didn't know what to do."

"There was no real plan in place from what we gathered," White said, describing her experience with home care as horrendous. 

As a result, White and her family had to take up her father's care on their own.

Senior left to 'fend for yourself' 

"It really just brought lots of tears and everything," White added. "We could do nothing about it and it wrecked your relationship really because you now became the caregiver."

White said others in the same complex also reported missed visits and similar issues. She said she called Southern Health, the authority tasked with running the home care program in Portage la Prairie, numerous times and received little in the way of answers. 

"You were left to just fend for yourself," she said. "If there wasn't somebody around I guess they would have just been on their own and I know other clients were on their own." 

On weekends, she said clients, including her father, had no place to call and inquire about their home care service as the phone number given was only staffed during the week. 

Lynn White's father was living at home at Rotary Park Senior's Housing in Portage la Prairie when the family started experiencing issues with home care. (Google Maps )

Even an in-person visit to the Southern Health head office in Steinbach, Man., yielded no results, White said. 

"The system broke down and you had no place else to go with it," she said. "I was so concerned with my dad's care or lack of care with no one showing up and how vulnerable he was."

Complaints fall on deaf ears 

She feels her concerns fell on deaf ears and nothing changed over the course of the nine months her dad received home care. She fears others are afraid to speak out about their concerns. 

He was moved into a personal care home in August 2016, the same month she sent an email to officials with Southern Health.

It was only after that email that White said she started getting acknowledged. 

"You and your family have been through what is an unacceptable time with service interruptions," part of one email from a Regional Director with Southern Health to White read.

System 'failed your father' 

"We are working on improvement to the system for which the most part failed your father..."  the email went on to read. 
Another contained an apology for the "inability to meet the needs of your father in a reliable and consistent matter." 

Despite the movement, White said she still hasn't been told what led to the breakdown of service. She said she was told records of missed visits and aides calling in sick couldn't be found. 

Southern Health told Lynn White that they will be reviewing the home care program in Portage la Prairie (Supplied )

Southern Health said in an email to White that they will be making co-ordinators available in off-hours, such as evenings and weekends, in case of sick calls or missed visits. Discipline and accountability measures are also listed as ways the region vowed to improve. No timelines for the service improvements were provided.

However no matter what fixes are implemented, White said the damage has already been done. She said her trust in the system has been lost.

"It should have been a good time and we should have been able to spend time with my dad. We were forced into a whole different role," she said. "I didn't want [that] but because of home care I was forced to take on that role."

White said she's now only looking for accountability and transparency about what her family experienced. 

Southern Health provided a statement on White's concerns to CBC News.

"The Southern Health-Santé Sud has met with Ms. White and others in her family on many occasions and are aware of her concerns," it read. "Investigations have been undertaken and a Human Resources review is taking place, therefore we cannot comment further on this matter."

Union addresses concerns 

The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, which raised concerns about the state of the province's home care system last year, said some of the concerns White raised have been issues for a long time.

"As someone who has worked in the home care field, these allegations are concerning," MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said in a statement through a spokesperson. "It's important the RHA keep the lines of communication open with the family." 

Gawronsky said the union flagged the lack of co-ordinators on evenings and weekends long ago.

"Our members have identified this as an issue some time ago as it will address concerns we see with scheduling that will only benefit clients and their families."