Family dismayed after man found outside in cold weather at care home — but say problems didn't stop there

Rhonda Davis lives in Calgary — 524 kilometres away from her mother, brother and dad in Saskatoon. But that distance can feel like a world apart, especially when things go wrong. Davis says her dad, who has dementia, has fallen about 17 times at his care home since the middle of June, with increasing frequency and with more severe injuries each time.

Warning: This story contains graphic images

Rhonda Davis, left, her dad, Howard Hrehirchuk, and Davis's daughter, right. (Submitted by Rhonda Davis)

Rhonda Davis lives in Calgary — 523 kilometres away from her mother, brother and dad in Saskatoon. But that distance can feel like a world apart, especially when things go wrong.

Davis's dad, Howard Hrehirchuk, lives in the Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon. He has dementia.

She said her dad has fallen about 17 times since the middle of June, with increasing frequency and with more severe injuries each time.

On Oct. 10, Davis said her dad wandered outside wearing nothing but underwear between 4 and 5 a.m. CST. In that hour, the temperature was between –14 and –15 C with the wind chill. He was outside for around half an hour, according to what Davis was told by the care home. 

Hrehirchuk's knee after wandering outside in October. (Submitted by Rhonda Davis)

He was found on his hands and knees, which were scraped up. Hrehirchuk has trouble walking.

Davis said the person looking after the unit Hrehirchuk was in may have been on break or may have been called to another house. 

Not all doors are alarmed at the care home. Kim Schmidt, leader of resident care services at Sherbrooke, said that residents are free to come and go in most units. If or when someone is identified as a potential wander risk, then an assessment is done to figure out if they need more secure housing.

When I found out that he almost died as a result of them not having the proper staff or the proper equipment, it just made me sick.- Rhonda Davis, daughter

Hrehirchuk also has a bed alarm, which goes off when an infrared barrier is crossed. Davis said the care home shuts his off sometimes. Schmidt said that the care home will sometimes do that if the alarm is found not to be the best option for monitoring someone.

Hrehirchuk was moved to a more secure house in the centre after that incident. Davis said it hasn't been enough. 

"He's in a facility where he should be fed and looked after properly and we are paying lots of money for that," she said.

His problems continued after the fall.

The family said he escaped again and was found in the parking lot in his wheelchair just a few days after he had wandered outside in the cold. Hrehirchuk broke his wrist in a fall on Dec.3. Davis said in an email on Wednesday that her dad had fallen that day and was taken to hospital with an eye swollen shut and deep bruising.

Davis said that as of Thursday, her dad was still in the hospital from the fall. (Submitted by Rhonda Davis)

Davis said she wasn't happy with the way the care home was handling her complaints, so she got a client representative from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) involved.

"I don't see reaching out to SHA being any benefit to my family," Davis said.

"I warned them a week before my dad fell out of his wheelchair that he had already done that and if something didn't change, he's going to hurt himself — and he did hurt himself."

Davis said she feels like not enough is being done to keep her dad safe at his home. She claims her father is fed rice on a regular basis when his patient notes state that he shouldn't be, because he chokes on it. Schmidt said that while there are notes about diet in the care plan and that it's reviewed regularly, a resident may choose to not follow that.

"That's what staff are expected to follow, unless the resident on that day makes a different choice," she said.

"[Residents] may choose to live at risk.… We try and be resident-directed here."

Davis also said she had suggested strapping him into his wheelchair to prevent him from falling so often, but that was not implemented, she said.

Hrehirchuk with his granddaughter. (Submitted by Rhonda Davis)

Schmidt said the care home can't comment on any specific situation, citing the Health Information Protection Act.

"We have a duty to protect people who live with us. We have protect their personal health information," she said. 

With regard to the process people can go through when they have a complaint, Schmidt said reaching out to the SHA is a good step when families are unhappy with the internal process. She also said the care home's policy dictates they should be in touch with the family about possible changes to the care plan.

Schmidt also said that both an internal and an external review could be done when reviewing complaints.

The SHA also said it cannot comment on specific cases, but said that families could reach out to the ombudsman's office should they be unhappy with their client representative.

Davis has thought about moving her dad to another place, but said that the move from one unit to another was traumatic enough for him.

"To move him out of there to get him a different, better care home — I don't think right now that that's necessarily the answer," she said.

"So my priority, as it's always been, is just that he be kept safe and looked after properly with the correct food, needs being attended to and no more incidents."

About the Author

Emily Pasiuk

Emily Pasiuk is a reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatchewan and an associate producer for The Morning Edition. She has also reported at CTV Saskatoon and written for Global Regina. Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

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