The Fraser Health Authority says it is investigating after Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove raised concerns about a 76-year-old woman who was discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and sent by taxi to the Chilliwack Salvation Army shelter, despite mobility and incontinence issues.
On Thursday, the mayor requested a meeting with Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee to discuss “why vulnerable people are being sent to Chilliwack homeless shelters from another community.”
He cited the case of an elderly woman who had no family in Chilliwack, but arrived at the local shelter from the Surrey hospital in early February. Shelter staff were not prepared to care for her medical needs, which included severe incontinence.
“Constantly cleaning up fecal matter … is a serious concern for both staff and shelter clients,” said Popove in a letter to Lee.
Fraser Health spokesman Dixon Tam said Fraser Health makes “every effort” to find homeless patients a place to go when they are clinically stable and ready to leave the hospital, but “finding suitable housing is a challenge across our region.”
Tam said: “We are committed to continue to work closely with B.C. Housing and our municipal partners to develop more options. At the same time, we need to be careful not to use hospital beds as an alternative to stable housing.”
Abbotsford homeless advocate Jesse Wegenast said he wasn’t surprised to read the Chilliwack mayor’s account in the newspaper, “but only because it’s such a common practice.”
Wegenast’s organization, The 5 and 2 Ministries, opened a winter homeless shelter in Abbotsford on Nov. 1. The next day, he received a call from a Vancouver General Hospital administrator asking if he had space for an 81-year-old patient.
Wegenast said he often says no to accepting patients because the shelter is not open 24 hours and people must leave during the day. He’s had requests to take people with severe mobility issues, as well as those who need help with toileting or washing.
“The people who work at shelters are often very compassionate, and if the hospital says, ‘Well, we’re not keeping them,’ they feel obligated to help,” said Wegenast.
The pastor said he’s rarely seen people in shelters receive home care or followup care, and it’s also difficult for them to get prescriptions filled.
Wegenast helped a low-income senior on Friday who recently had half of his foot amputated. The man lives in an apartment and was receiving home care to help with dressing changes, but he’d been unable to get antibiotics for five days since being released from hospital.
“When you have people exiting acute care at the hospital and there’s no one to follow that up, it’s bad for that person’s health, and it’s also bad for public health in general,” he said.
Unlike Wegenast, Warren Macintyre was surprised to read about the Chilliwack woman’s situation because it confirmed that the experience he’d had with Fraser Health was not uncommon.
“I really had no idea this kind of thing was going on,” he said.
Three weeks ago, a close family member was admitted to Surrey Memorial after suffering from alcohol withdrawal, said Macintyre. He was placed on life support in the intensive care unit for about 10 days. When he was stable, he planned to enter a treatment program in Abbotsford, but there weren’t any beds available until March 14.
“We were told the plan was to keep him in hospital until then, but I got a call Wednesday telling me he’d been discharged,” said Macintyre.
Surrey Memorial had sent his relative to the treatment centre, where staff repeated they had no space, so he was returned to the hospital. The man, who had been staying at the Maple Ridge Salvation Army before his hospital admission, took a cab to a friend’s house.
His family is hoping he’ll be able to stay sober until he can get into treatment March 14.
“I told the hospital, if he goes back on the booze, he’ll be right back here,” said Macintyre.
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