An elderly woman spent more than a week in a Halifax emergency room because her family refused to take her home, according to the chief of Nova Scotia’s largest ER.
Dr. Samuel Campbell said the woman was not ill, but her grandchildren were looking after her and felt they could no longer cope with her mild dementia.
Campbell said Halifax Infirmary emergency room staff contacted her next of kin — the woman’s children, who were in Florida at the time — but they became angry that she couldn’t stay in emergency and refused to take her home.
The staff were threatened with legal action or with bringing the issue to the media.
“The family was just saying, ‘We refuse to take her home. She’s your problem. Do something’,” said Campbell in an interview on Thursday. “Nurses are crying and social workers are desperate.”
The woman stayed at the hospital for 215 hours, or almost nine days, before being discharged Thursday, said Campbell.
“That’s 60 patients, 60 sick patients that basically did not get care while she was here because she was using up the space that they paid their tax dollars to provide for their emergency care,” said Campbell, adding that another elderly person was in the emergency room for more than four days.
Such situations are becoming all too common in the region’s emergency rooms, said Campbell: Elderly people who are not acutely ill are clogging the system and preventing others from receiving emergency care.
Campbell said some families are not planning for the long-term care of their loved ones and instead drop them off at emergency when they can no longer cope with their needs.
“They throw their hands up and say they can’t manage any longer… In some ways it’s almost abandonment,” said Campbell.
“The problem for us is that we can’t do our job… The emergency department is for managing emergencies. An emergency is an unexpected health crisis. This is not an unexpected health crisis. It’s a social crisis that should have been anticipated. They didn’t suddenly become demented and old.”
Campbell said in most cases, the elderly person has cognitive issues.
“They languish in the emergency department. It’s lit 24 hours a day. It’s noisy 24 hours a day. It’s not a calm environment, which is exactly what these people need,” said Campbell.
Health Minister Leo Glavine reiterated Thursday that wait times for long-term care beds are coming down. He said Emergency Health Services are also now able to go to homes and address health needs without going to the emergency room.
“Part of that… is educating our senior population so that they know that there could be another avenue for them to get the care that they need,” said Glavine after a cabinet meeting.