Nova Scotia

N.S. protection services failed elderly couple: neighbour

A Dartmouth man says his elderly neighbours might still be alive if the provincial adult protection service had stepped in to help them.
Lawrence Denham called adult protection services several times to try to get help for his elderly neighbours, Ken and Pauline Hartling.

A Dartmouth man says his elderly neighbours might still be alive if the provincial adult protection service had stepped in to help them.

Instead, Lawrence Denham said, the couple died within weeks of each other.

Pauline Hartling died last month after being pushed by another woman in a dementia ward. Prior to moving to the Shannex Arborstone Enhanced Care Nursing Home on Purcells Cove Road, she had been living with her seriously ill husband, Ken.

Pauline Hartling, 92, had been suffering from Alzheimers for a few years. Her husband, 77, had mobility issues as a result of having had polio and had recently been diagnosed with blood cancer, Denham said.

"They were like grandparents to my kids," Denham said.

He said the couple had been married 46 years, and had no children. Denham urged Ken Hartling to get help.

"His family tried to help him, and he kept saying: 'I can do it, I can do it. We're fine,'" Denham said.

Several calls made

Denham said he became so worried about the Hartlings that he called adult protection services several times in the last two years. 

However, assessments came back saying the couple was fine in their home, Denham said, despite Ken's rapidly failing physical health and Pauline's advanced Alzheimer's.

A week before Christmas 2010, Ken was back in the hospital.

"Ken was in a state. He'd lost an awful, awful lot of blood," Denham said.

Ken was released back to home with Pauline. Denham, who was getting ready to visit relatives for Christmas, was so concerned about the Hartlings he called adult protection services again.

He said he was told the couple was OK.

"'Right now they're of sound mind, there is no immediate danger of death.  We're going away for holidays, we'll reassess them when we come back,'" Denham said he was told.

Knock on the door

The Denhams were home on Dec. 29 when they heard a knock on the door.

"It was Pauline. She had one shoe on and one shoe off. We brought her in, sat her down and we knew then that something was wrong. Ken was dead. I found him on the floor," Denham said, choking back tears.

The Denhams called 911.

"One thing the police [officer] said was,'This happens too often.' I looked at him and said 'What do you mean?'  He said something like this happened last week," Denham said.

Pauline was placed in the dementia ward and a few days later, on Jan. 7, another resident pushed her. She fell and broke her hip.

She was sent to hospital, and returned  home 11 days later. She died Feb. 5. Her death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.

Denham said his family is going to write to Health Minister Maureen MacDonald to ensure this doesn't happen to another elderly person.

"What we want to see is adult protective services step in when they're required. Being of sound mind does not cut it," he said.

"Ken was not of sound body. If they had stepped in in December, they'd both still be alive."