Nfld. & Labrador

Central Labrador family says mother isn't being fed properly in long-term care

Joan Saunders says her mother-in-law needs a designated staff member at mealtimes and wants caregiver status 

Joan Saunders says mother-in-law needs designated staff member but health authority says staff levels are safe

Bridget Saunders, 91, lives at the long-term care home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Submitted by Joan Saunders)

A Happy Valley-Goose Bay family, concerned over their mother's care in the central Labrador town's care home, is calling for increased staffing for long-term care centres.

Joan Saunders says her mother-in-law, Bridget, has been in long-term care in 2018 after her spouse died. But things have been deteriorating since November, when Bridget lost her eyesight, said Saunders.

"That's when her eating became a real problem," Saunders told CBC News in a recent interview. She said she recorded a video of her mother-in-law trying to eat.

"She was sitting on the edge of her bed and it was pathetic, was pitiful to see her trying," she said. "Her hands were hovering around her food, picking at this … and she couldn't see."

Bridget's son William said his 91-year-old mother, who was born on Labrador's north coast before moving to Happy Valley-Goose Bay as a young woman, was always active, worked as a seamstress for many years with the hospital, and had a good sense of humour.

"When other residents are being fed, she's being left in her bed in a very, very bad state and her meal is brought to her and a hospital tray after everybody else," said Joan Saunders. "It's not good enough.… She's lost all of her dignity, and humanity has been taken away from her."

In a video shown to CBC News, Saunders can be seen having difficulty eating her vegetables, mashed potatoes and meat. (Submitted by Joan Saunders )

Joan Saunders said she took her concerns, and the video, to management, who she said told her someone would sit with Bridget at mealtimes. But she says more needs to be done, including ensuring the person assigned to be with Bridget at mealtimes has training on feeding the elderly. She also said that by the time a staff member is free to sit with Bridget, the food is cold and Bridget isn't always able to eat it. 

Saunders's son William is pictured with her mother in October, when he was able to visit for her 91st birthday. (Submitted by Joan Saunders)

In response to Saunders's concerns, Labrador-Grenfell Health issued a statement that said the health authority ensures long-term care homes are staffed to provide safe care for residents and said staffing levels are monitored daily.

The statement, which didn't address the Saunders family's specific situation, said staff are available to help residents who need supervision or assistance at mealtimes but  said the COVID-19 pandemic has put additional pressures on staff at the facility. The health authority said it realigned staff on Jan. 3 from other areas to "ensure the correct skill mix was available to support the site and to address any unplanned staffing shortages."

Joan Saunders said she and William had been helping to take care of Bridget since she lost her eyesight, but when Newfoundland and Labrador returned to Alert Level 4 of its pandemic restrictions, visitation to long-term care homes was prohibited. 

The province allows visitors in exceptional circumstances, but Joan Saunders said she was told that applies only to people in palliative care. She wants permission to go in at any time to help. 

"She should not have to be on her deathbed before we can go in and provide some care," Joan said. "Visitors and caregivers are very different."

Joan Saunders has asked to be a designated support person to be able to visit her mother-in-law and assist with her care. (Submitted by Joan Saunders)

Labrador-Grenfell Health says the facility can allow one designated support person for residents who require extra support.

"A designated support person is an individual considered by the resident's care team to be paramount to the resident's physical care and mental wellbeing, and can be a loved one, friend or paid caregiver," says the statement.

Saunders said she has asked verbally to become a designated support person so she can help her mother-in-law. 

"I'd just like for her to be treated with some humanity," she said. "She is not getting that. She's not getting it at all."

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