After nearly 3 years in hospital, young man with autism finally gets a home

A man with autism and a developmental disability has been living at the Ottawa Hospital for years, waiting for a spot in a group home — and now one's finally become available.

Family credits hospital pilot program for preparing Michael Neve for new home

Jennifer and Michael Neve at his 27th birthday in 2016. After three years at The Ottawa Hospital, Michael has finally transitioned to a group home. (Jennifer Neve)

For the first time in years, Michael Neve lives in a house, not a hospital.

He has a living room, a backyard with a barbecue and housemates who golf and play basketball with him.

It's a marked difference for Neve, an Ottawa man with a developmental disability and autism who lived in The Ottawa Hospital's psychiatric ward for two-and-a-half years while waiting for a room in a group home.

Something in brain changed, says sister

Jennifer Neve, Michael's sister, told CBC News she's already noticed a change in his demeanour and personality since his move last month.

"He's able to talk to me for 30 minutes on the phone. You can just sense in his voice he's happier. He's more comfortable. It's almost as though something in his brain has changed," said Jennifer. 

"He's able to sit back and relax and tell you about all the aspects of his day."

At this time last year, however, Michael could hardly string together a full sentence.

Michael ended up in the hospital's emergency room in 2013 after he'd been left without proper supervision and started to harm himself. 

Jennifer Neve hoped for years that a group home spot would open up for her brother Michael. (CBC)

"He needed medical attention," said Jennifer, a registered nurse living in Vancouver. "When he was in the hospital, he stopped talking, stopped eating. He was wearing diapers, he lost all control of himself — sort of like a catatonic state."

Michael had a security guard standing at his hospital room door 24 hours a day due to his occasional outbursts. From time to time, he required both physical and chemical restraints.

Million-dollar bed

According to Ottawa Hospital officials, the cost of an acute-care bed for Michael was about $1,250 a day. Add the cost for a security guard for more than a year, and the price tag for his stay was well over $1 million.

Hospital officials say there are seven other patients with similar needs to Michael's waiting for a community bed.

Michael Neve (left) and his caregiver Zaya Kuyena take part in an art program in Ottawa. (CBC)

Zaya Kuyena is a friend and a personal care worker. For the past year he's visited Michael a few times a week, taking him on outings and being his advocate.

Now that Michael is in a group home, Kuyena is helping with his transition from the hospital to the community, along with a team from Innovative Community Support Services (ICSS) that worked with Neve as part of a pilot project over the past year.

"They've been incredible," said Kuyena. "I give them updates weekly."

Jennifer Neve says both Kuyena and ICSS have been instrumental in his transition.

"I'm really grateful to the hospital staff for helping him for such a long time. But let's face it,  that was such a chaotic environment for Michael, with bells going off and people walking back and forth down the hall," Jennifer said. "He could never really feel at ease."

She said she now sees the "old Michael" reemerging, faster than she'd expected.

Listen to an interview with Kuyena from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Lost most of his teeth

While in the hospital, Michael had to have surgery to remove most of his teeth last December due to a lack of oral hygiene and subsequent infections. 

Kuyena said that once Michael settles into his new home, he'll need another surgery to remove more teeth.

"A second surgery has been delayed," said Kuyena. "We have to be very mindful of the type of foods he eats."

But Jennifer said the food is one of the things that Michael appreciates most about his new accommodations.

"A couple of days ago he told me they were having beef tacos for dinner. The food has definitely improved from the hospital food and he's starting to eat a lot more," she said.

"And the staff are great as well. They really, really care about Michael's success." 

Jennifer and Michael Neve on an outing not long after he had his teeth removed during surgery at The Ottawa Hospital. (Neve Family)