Former councillor's plight highlights need for longterm care beds: NDP

Doug Evans retired in 2005 after serving 15 years on Burnaby city council. Now suffering from Alzheimer
Doug Evans retired in 2005 after serving 15 years on Burnaby city council. Now suffering from Alzheimer's, his family says his health has suffered after 13 weeks in Burnaby Hospital, where he has been heavily medicated and restrained to his bed, while they await a longterm care bed.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader File

Former Burnaby councillor Doug Evans' health has worsened dramatically since he has been forced to stay in an acute care bed at Burnaby Hospital, say his family.

"And now from a man who was healthy and walking and dressing himself and feeding himself, he can't walk anymore, his muscles have totally atrophied in his legs, he can't feed himself, he can't dress himself, he can't do anything," said Evans' daughter Diane at a press conference Monday. "He doesn't know any of us. It's just heartbreaking for us to see him in this situation."

Evans, 83, has had Alzheimer's disease for about eight years. In recent months the Burnaby resident had become very confused and believed his home was in North Vancouver, where he was born and grew up, Diane said.

A few months ago, after getting lost while out for a walk, he was picked up by police and eventually admitted to Burnaby Hospital by a psychiatric doctor.

When his family arrived, they found him in the ER, heavily medicated with anti-psychotic medication, restrained to a bed and wearing only a diaper.

The family protested the use of increasingly strong doses of medication but were told doctors were trying to find the proper dosage levels.

During his 13 weeks in the hospital, being restrained and unable to move around, Evans eventually contracted pneumonia and currently is recovering from C. difficile, "a severe infection that Burnaby Hospital is famous for, unfortunately," Diane said. "He was six-foot-four and 200 pounds when he went in, now he can't even straighten his legs anymore."

The family believes Evans was so heavily medicated, to the point he was falling asleep constantly, because the acute care hospital staff simply didn't know how to care for a patient with Alzheimer's. Diane said her father is in the hospital's transitional care unit where the majority of the 40 patients are seniors with the disease.

"He went into hospital a healthy man and now he needs an enormous amount of care," she said. "The hospital is no place for someone who is only suffering from Alzheimer's."

And yet, there are simply not enough beds in longterm care facilities which specialize in caring for such patients. Diane said one person told her "you have to wait for someone to die to get into a care home."

While the family waits for a subsidized public bed in a care facility, they were told beds are more readily available at the full, private rate.

"They told us if we put a reverse mortgage on his house he would be placed the next day and it would cost between $50,000 and $70,000 a year to care for him," Diane said, noting that's simply not an option for them.

"We can't just focus on acute care, we have to move to chronic disease management, and this is a classic case of why," said New Democrat health critic Mike Farnworth.

Evans is staying in an acute care bed costing "well over $1,500 a day, medicated into a stupor, which is not good for the patent and certainly not good for our health care system," Farnworth said.

In contrast, longterm care beds cost hundreds of dollars a day to operate, significantly less than an acute care bed, he stressed.

"During the past, government said they would build 5,000 [longterm beds] but they never materialized. As we have an aging population, more cases of Alzheimer's, there needs to be those beds in place."

Diane Evans said the family was so concerned about the care their father was receiving that the six siblings have been taking shifts the past 13 weeks to ensure someone is with him daily from mid-morning until he goes to sleep at night.

Evans was a Burnaby city councillor from 1990 to 2005, and had served as president of both the Vancouver district of the International Woodworkers of America  and the Vancouver District Labour Council.

"If a person who is well known can't even get that kind of attention, what about ordinary people?" said Burnaby-Edmonds NDP MLA Raj Chouhan. "A person like  Mr. Evans, who has been on the front lines for so many years, and even he is neglected."

The Fraser Health Authority said in an emailed statement that its Patient Care Quality Office is working with family members and caregivers at the hospital to address concerns.

"If a patient’s condition changes during a hospital stay, this can sometimes mean that the patient will need to be assessed more than once and a care plan that was previously appropriate may need to change. In this case, another assessment for residential care placement will be completed as soon as the patient is properly stabilized."

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