Nfld. & Labrador

Alzheimer's patient allowed to leave secure unit with man once accused of defrauding her

Secure units at nursing homes are meant to keep patients with dementia in, but a family is now questioning who is responsible for keeping others out.

Health authority that runs nursing home is now investigating

Tanya Connors says she received a call on Dec. 23 from a manager at the Agnes Pratt nursing home in St. John's advising her that her mother was missing. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Secure units at nursing homes are meant to keep patients with dementia in, but a Newfoundland family is now questioning who is responsible for keeping others out.

Two days before Christmas, 81-year-old Ida Connors — who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease — was taken from the secure unit of a long-term care home in St. John's by a man once accused of defrauding her.

Family members say staff at the home run by Eastern Health were warned about the man.   

Ida Connors, 81, has lived at the nursing home since being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease last fall. (Submitted by Tanya Connors)
"This is a person we identified as a target to my mother, somebody who is not safe," Tanya Connors, the daughter of the home resident, told CBC News.

"How can he walk into a locked unit and just take her out, with no staff even being alerted or worried or tweaked into the fact that he's never visited her before?"

Eastern Health told CBC News it is now reviewing its policies to ensure the safety of residents.

But Tanya Connors wants an explanation for what happened to her mother, and assurances it won't happen again.

Man was former tenant

Connors says she got a call at her home in Toronto on Dec. 23 from a manager at the Agnes Pratt Home in St. John's, where her mother has lived since November.

She says she was told her mother was missing, and had gone out with a man. Connors was shocked when the manager told her the man's name.

He could just waltz on in and take her out. No family, no consent, and identified as a danger to my mother.- Tanya Connors

​She says she had warned staff at the home about the man, who had lived in an apartment in her mother's house before her condition got worse and she moved into care last fall.

The man was charged with defrauding her mother last April, but charges were dropped when he repaid the senior for purchases he put on her debit card, Connors says.

The day her mother went missing from the care home, she says the former tenant took the elderly woman to her bank, where she withdrew $300, before being returned to the home. Her family doesn't know where the money went.

But Connors wants answers.

"He could just waltz on in and take her out," she said. "No family, no consent, and identified as a danger to my mother."

The Agnes Pratt Home is located in the west end of St. John's and operated by Eastern Health. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Concerns about systemic problem

Connors says she wasn't satisfied with the response she received from officials, and went to her mother's longtime member of the House of Assembly for help.

PC Steve Kent is a former Newfoundland and Labrador deputy premier and health minister, and the current Opposition health critic.

"There's no way that random strangers should be able to walk into a secure unit," Kent told CBC News.

"If this happened to Ms. Connors, then it can happen to anybody."

He's worried what happened at the Agnes Pratt Home could be part of a bigger problem in the system.

PC health critic Steve Kent is concerned that the incident involving Ida Connors could signal a bigger problem in the system. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

'This is a very rare event'

Citing privacy laws, Eastern Health gave few details about what happened to Ida Connors, but confirmed that an investigation is being carried out to see why an unauthorized person was allowed to take someone from a secure unit.

"It's never happened to my knowledge, ever," Judy O'Keefe, the vice-president for clinical services with Eastern Health, said in an interview.

"We're unaware of any other situations like this. This is a very rare event."

The health authority is now reviewing policies and procedures.

That will include working to ensure there is a list of approved visitors on file of those who are allowed to take residents off the unit.

Judy O'Keefe is the vice-president for clinical services with Eastern Health. The health authority runs the Agnes Pratt Home in St. John's. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"We're very apologetic for what happened," O'Keefe said.

"We understand completely this daughter or any family member's concern about their loved one. We take that very, very seriously."

O'Keefe said Eastern Health officials will soon meet with the woman's family to discuss their concerns, and to outline what is being done to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary had confirmed to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon that it also launched an investigation, but Tanya Connors said she was told later Tuesday that police would not be pursuing the matter any further.

The RNC did not respond to a followup inquiry Wednesday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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