Nfld. & Labrador

Grieving sister cries foul on Western Health long-term care policy

Roslynn West says her family has been traumatized by only having 24 hours to move her deceased sister's belongings out of her long-term care room in Corner Brook.
Roslynn West, left, was given 24 hours to clear our her sister Karen Norman's room at the Corner Brook long-term care home. (Submitted by Roslynn West)

Roslynn West says she and her family are traumatized with the way Western Health treated her sister's possessions after she passed away at the long-term care home in Corner Brook.

When West's sister Karen Norman died earlier this year, West went by her room at the home, where she found out she had 24 hours to clear the room of all Norman's things.

"It's cold-hearted, there's no respect shown at all," said West, of the move-out policy she said Western Health refused to budge on.

To this day it haunts me how we had to handle her possessions. It was so unfair.- Roslynn West

Norman lived in the room for the past 15 years, after suffering a stroke in her early 40s.

"I had to meet with a funeral director at 11, I had to meet with the pastor at 2 and I asked, 'Can we have a couple of days and then come over and do it?' And we were told absolutely not," said West.

West's family swung into a panicked packing frenzy.

Karen Norman's family had to frantically pack up her possessions, accumulated over the 15 years she lived in the long-term care room. (Submitted by Roslynn West)

"It broke our hearts. My girls and my husband, we were all crying, knowing that she took such good care of the things she had, and here we were, just taking it and slinging it in boxes," said West.

"To this day it haunts me how we had to handle her possessions. It was so unfair."

It took two truckloads and two SUVs to cart all of of Norman's belongings, said West.

Long-term care bed demand

Western Health wouldn't comment on the specifics of West's complaints, but said the 24-hour rule is a firm policy, in place due to long waitlists.

Karen Norman's possessions were brought back to her sister's house after her death. (Submitted by Roslynn West)

"The demand for long-term care certainly exceeds our capacity," Kelli O'Brien, vice-president of long-term care for Western Health, told The Corner Brook Morning Show.

O'Brien said there are 35 people currently sitting on the waitlist, some of whom have been on the list for up to eight months.

"Some of these people certainly are in situations that they absolutely need it, and we would consider them an emergency admission to long term care," said O'Brien.

"When a bed does become vacant, which is unfortunately through a death … our goal is to try to move someone into that bed within one to three days."

Easing the transition

However, West said she feels exceptions could be made to that policy.

"I understand them needing the room, I know what it's like trying to get someone into long-term care," said West.

"[But] an extra day or so wouldn't put someone out."

An extra day or so wouldn't put someone out.- Roslynn West

Western Health did offer to help pack up Norman's belongings to help with the workload of funeral planning, but West declined.

"We just didn't want any of them putting their hands on anything else that Karen owned," she said.

But it doesn't appear the Western Health policy is going to change, although the health authority did apologize to West for her experience.

"We certainly express our condolences to the family for their loss, and certainly apologize for any additional suffering that the family has communicated that they've experienced as a result of our practices," said O'Brien.

With files from The Corner Brook Morning Show