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B.C. doctor frustrated after finding terminally ill mother at home without care

A family physician in Saanich, B.C., is raising her voice, concerned about a shortage of health-care workers after finding her sick mother at home without one last week.

Dr. Jennifer Lush said she swung by 86-year-old Marianne Lush’s house on the morning of Sept. 22 to find her in bed by herself. Marianne has terminal cancer and is legally blind and paralyzed in both legs.

“If I hadn’t happen to show up, she would not have had her medications on time, she would have been in severe pain and should not have even had food to eat,” Lush told Global News on Friday.

“Because her care is palliative, the health authority is supposed to be providing a health-care worker who is there from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.”

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Without enough community health-care workers to go around, Lush said she acts as her mother’s second caregiver, helping her get in and out of bed each day.

Last week was not the first time a health-care worker failed to show up, she added.

After the Sept. 22 incident, Lush said she reached out to the care provider, Sidney SeniorCare, a subcontractor of Island Health, and was told the person who was supposed to attend that day had called in sick.

“People call (in) sick, but I don’t understand why they don’t have a protocol in place such that they notify the family … and also they need to have the ability to backfill a shift. They can’t just leave somebody in bed for hours,” said Lush.

“My mom is fortunate in that she does have me as a family member in town to check in on her. But how many vulnerable seniors out there in the community are laying in bed without their needs being met?”

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In an emailed statement, the president of the SeniorCare Group of Companies described Lush and Marianne’s experience as an “isolated” one.

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Sidney SeniorCare has been in touch with Lush, Shauna Dorko added, “solved her immediate concerns” and will “move forward together in a positive direction.”

“When you’re dealing with thousands of seniors in the home support system and thousands of caregivers it is impossible for things to go perfectly 100% of the time,” she said, in part.

“We obviously are not the only home care agency or health care facility this has happened to, so it seems very unfair to target, or even name, Sidney SeniorCare in this interview since we all agree that this is a systemic issue.”

The vast majority of SeniorCare Group of Companies clients have a positive experience, Dorko added, and the organization is working continuously to improve its services and be transparent with clients and workers.

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Island Health also told Global News it is aware of what happened to Marianne and has “followed up” with Sidney SeniorCare to understand the incident and “ensure the established process is followed when there are last minute changes to scheduled home support visits.”

“It’s unclear why this process was not followed in this situation,” a spokesperson wrote. “We acknowledge the family’s frustration and concern about their loved one’s care.”

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Like many jurisdictions, Island Health said it is challenged by community health-care worker shortages and is actively recruiting more.

On Wednesday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said he, too, is “looking into” what happened in Lush and Marianne’s case, and has asked Island Health to report to him on it.

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Meanwhile, Lush said she has no plans to change her mother’s care, but is speaking up on behalf of those who have no one to advocate for them.

“Seniors in the community deserve better. They should be able to stay at home, to have their dignity and independence preserved,” she explained.

“It’s best for seniors, it’s best for society — it’s best for the health-care system.”

She cited wage disparities between community health-care workers and their counterparts in acute and long-term care facilities as a driving factor in the shortages.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.