Death of woman hospitalized for 'horrific' bedsore sparks criminal investigation
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Editor's note and warning: A highly disturbing photo of Chrissy Dunnington's bedsore is contained at the bottom of this story. The photo has been provided by her family to show the extent of her injuries. It shows a deep wound about the size of a fist on Dunnington's lower back.
Police are investigating the death of a woman who was a resident at a long-term care facility in Halifax to determine if it was the result of criminal negligence by staff at the home.
Chrissy Dunnington was 38 when her family moved her into Parkstone Enhanced Care, a facility owned by Shannex, two years ago.
Her sister, Dorothy, said Chrissy was born with spina bifida and had special needs requiring continuous care. She was unaware and unable to articulate the extent of her wound, and had little mobility. Her foster parents provided the care she required until they simply could not physically meet her needs.
Dorothy Dunnington's eyes sparkle when she speaks of her sister.
'The light of our lives'
"Chrissy was, she was the light of our lives," she said in an interview Friday. "We liked to call her our rainbow."
Dunnington said the family quickly developed concerns about Chrissy's care at Parkstone. She never seemed to be positioned correctly in her wheelchair, her teeth weren't getting brushed and she seemed to spend too much time in bed.
After Chrissy's first month at Parkstone, the family asked for a meeting with staff to share their concerns. While Dunnington said she felt like things would improve, they did not.
"Every time we went in, we would have to reposition her in her chair," she said.
In December, the family was told Chrissy had developed bedsores. The family tried to seek regular updates on her condition.
"It was always very, kind of sloughed off, like it wasn't a big deal. We were always left to believe there was nothing major happening," Dunnington said.
But something major was happening. On Jan. 22, the family received a call to say Chrissy had a fever. The next day staff said they thought she had an infection related to the bedsore.
It was a few days after that, during a visit, family became especially concerned about Chrissy. She was dehydrated and seemed to be having trouble breathing. It was only after persistence on their part that staff called an on-call doctor, who said paramedics should be called.
"When she arrived at the hospital, the emergency room physicians told us that had we not got her there that day, she would have died that day at the nursing home," said Dunnington.
Warning: graphic photo below
It was only then, in the hospital, that Chrissy's family saw the bedsore on her back. At this point, there was a hole and bone could be observed, Dunnington said.
"It was horrific. It was traumatizing. We didn't know what to think. We knew she had a sore at that point, but we were not prepared for what we found that day."
The family filed a complaint with the provincial Health Department and an initial report indicated staff at Parkstone were first aware of the bedsore in October, and that it got progressively worse through November and December, before the family was ever informed.
"We were heartbroken when we found out," Dunnington said.
"How could there not be anybody in that ward willing to tell us what was happening to my sister …These are the people everybody is trusting to care for their loved ones."
An engaged family
Dunnington said hers was an engaged family who visited every other day and asked many questions of staff. She worries what that means for residents who don't have people engaged on their behalf.
After arriving at the hospital on Jan. 28, Dunnington said it became clear her sister likely wouldn't survive. That became even more evident after four weeks of antibiotics did nothing for her infection.
Chrissy Dunnington died at the QEII Health Sciences Centre on March 22.
Police called in
The day after Chrissy was admitted to hospital, the family filed a complaint with the Health Department. After she died, the family waited for a report to come back, expecting it would address what happened.
But Dunnington said there were a lot of delays. They went to the press, sharing their story with the Chronicle Herald newspaper last month. They also went to the police.
"We knew from Day 1, we would be filing a report with the police."
Halifax Regional Police announced Friday the investigation is in the early stages and limited details are available. The special investigation section of the integrated criminal investigation division is involved.
The Dunnington family recently received a report from the Health Department and are working on a response.
Dorothy Dunnington isn't satisfied with the information the family received. She said no family members were interviewed for the report.
"It's quite vague. For 4½ months, it's very short, very brief," she said.
A Health Department spokesperson said once the department has responses to the report, it will conclude its investigation, which could include making a report to regulatory agencies such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, if the findings warrant that.
Province tracking bedsores
Even before the announcement of the police investigation, the story of Chrissy Dunnington was prompting action.
On Wednesday, provincial Health Minister Randy Delorey announced his ministry would begin tracking incidences of bedsores at long-term care facilities across the province. Delorey would not say if the information would be made public.
Dunnington welcomed the announcement, but said it's not enough. She and opposition politicians are calling for bedsore tracking, along with routine nursing home inspections, to be made public.
"They're not protecting residents by keeping it private," she said.
Inspections will be posted
Health Department spokesperson Tracy Barron said Delorey's directive issued Wednesday was a one-time order that requires all facilities to immediately report all bed sores, regardless of severity.
"These reporting requirements will improve tracking and oversight of wound care for residents and help us determine additional steps," Delorey said in a statement Friday.
The province is now establishing wound treatment protocols which, until now, was left to the discretion of each facility.
Delorey said licence inspection reports for the long-term care facilities and results of investigations under the Protection for Persons in Care Act will be posted quarterly, with the first batch going up this summer.
There have been problems with resident care at Parkstone in the past.
The office that investigates abuse in Nova Scotia nursing homes found three confirmed cases of abuse at Parkstone in 2015 and 2016. CBC News received redacted reports of investigations done under the Protection for Persons in Care Act following freedom of information requests.
The findings at Parkstone included physical and emotional abuse as well as failure to provide adequate care or medical attention. Details of the abuse are blacked out, but not some of the directives issued to the home.
- In May 2016, Parkstone was directed to train staff on wound care treatment and identification.
- It was also ordered to ensure wound care is reviewed when assessing care plans for residents.
- In June 2016, Parkstone was directed to train staff on recognizing and reporting abuse.
- It was also told to train staff on its policies around cellphone use and taking photos or videos of residents without consent.
Since Chrissy's death, Dunnington said the only correspondence the family received from Shannex was when someone contacted them to see where mail for Chrissy should be forwarded.
An emailed statement from Shannex attributed to Matt Proctor, vice-president of marketing and communications, said "We take this matter seriously and will fully co-operate with the Halifax police. Given that this investigation will take some time, we will respectfully limit any further comment."
Meanwhile, Dunnington said the family is looking to partner with several other families who went through similar experiences in a class-action lawsuit against Shannex.
"We're not going away," she said.
With files from Blair Rhodes