Family of woman evicted from nursing home glad province is changing rules
Pauline Breen's children say nursing home patients need a 'bill of rights'
A daughter of an 83-year old woman who died after being evicted on short notice from Loch Lomond Villa in Saint John is pleased with proposed changes to the New Brunswick Nursing Homes Act.
Susan Steels's only regret is that her sister Patti didn't live to see the day.
"My sister died two weeks ago," said Steels, one of Pauline Breen's three daughters. "Patti won't be here to see the changes but we're going to make sure that other frail, vulnerable seniors like my mom and caregivers like my sister never have to face this kind of cruel, cruel reprisal again."
The reprisal Steels refers to is the family's belief that their mother was discharged from the nursing home and sent to a hospital bed because of their advocacy on her behalf.
The family of 83-year old Pauline Breen was given just 15 days to find alternative care for her. She died on June 6.
This week the Higgs government announced changes to controversial rules governing the ability of nursing homes to evict seniors they deem to be troublesome or unco-operative.
New legislation would double the period of notice required before a resident can be "discharged" to 30 days, bringing New Brunswick up to par with other provinces.
At present the rules require only a 15-day notice, which seniors advocates consider too short a time to find a new nursing bed.
The Department of Social Development also proposes to specify the circumstances under which a nursing home resident can be evicted. Currently, homes can force residents to leave for any reason the administration deems pertinent.
"We want to make sure that seniors in nursing homes and long-term care are safe and secure," said Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch.
Fitch did not want to discuss Breen's eviction specifically or say whether the proposed changes would have prevented it.
"It came to our attention that there was a short period of time when the nursing homes chose to discharge a resident," he said. "And we've extended that now to 30 days … when the nursing home decides that they can no longer provide the service to a resident."
The changes would also stipulate causes for eviction of a resident, rather than leaving the decision to the discretion of nursing home management.
Fitch said a proposed list of these causes will be published, and residents, the public and nursing homes will have 28 days to respond to it.
"There will be specific causes," said Fitch, "as opposed to in the past, where you didn't have to give a cause or you didn't have to point to a rule or regulation."
The changes follow demands made by Pauline Breen's family.
She was involuntarily discharged from the Loch Lomond Villa's nursing home after her daughters questioned some of the care she was receiving.
The late Patti Breen Kleinke, a registered nurse with power of attorney for her mother, accused the home's administrator, Cindy Donovan, of evicting Breen as punishment for the family's advocacy.
A letter that Donovan sent to Kleinke earlier this year is abrupt and direct. It makes clear the nursing home was discharging Breen not because of her behaviour or condition but because of a perceived lack of respect from her daughters.
"We are writing to advise that due to the lack of trust you have expressed in our care and as an organization, we are hereby giving you … notice of our intention to discharge Mrs. Breen in 15 days."
The letter provides no further explanation or justification for the discharge and offers no means of appeal for the family. Any further inquiries were directed to the Villa's lawyer, James O'Connell.
Breen's three daughters — two registered nurses and a social worker — were concerned that her health was failing and wanted tests to evaluate her condition. They said Donovan told them their mother was fine.
Breen was eventually discharged to a bed in the Saint John Regional Hospital, without warning and against her family's wishes. Days later she was transferred to hospice, where she died on June 6.
Steels said her family regards the proposed changes to the nursing home act an important victory.
"I'm very happy that the government has proposed some changes to the legislation that would permit people to not be discharged the way my mother had," Steels said.
"I think what happened to my mother can be described as nothing more than cruel, and that cruelty was permitted to happen because the legislation did not protect my mom. So I'm very pleased that the government has listened to the people who spoke up and said, 'This is wrong and this is wrong for our elders.'"
But Steels also points out that doubling the period of notice to 30 days is only part of the solution. The more important step, she said, will be holding nursing homes to account for evicting residents.
"From my vantage point, people like my mother are fragile," Steels said. "That's their home. There should never be a reason to have to kick someone in that state out of their home.
"And if there is, it has to be under very, very strict guidance that the home has to demonstrate that they don't have the skills and the competencies, the capacity to take care of of a resident. So I think that there needs to be a lot of responsibility on the operator to demonstrate why they can't take care of a person."
Steels today urged the province to enact a seniors' bill of rights to protect nursing home residents from reprisals if their families speak out about poor or inadequate care.
"A bill of rights would make sure … that the operators are held accountable to the people who call these nursing homes their home."