Family members call for change to seniors care system after being banned from seeing their loved ones

EDMONTON – The frustration is boiling over for some people in Alberta. They feel the seniors care system has let them down because restrictions have been put in place when it comes to seeing their loves ones.

On Thursday morning, a number of people tearfully shared their stories of being restricted or outright banned from visiting a family member in care.

Huguette Hebert says she was once banned from the Covenant Health facility her husband was staying at because she wanted to stay in the room while he was being changed.

She claims she had been allowed to do that for months before, but that day, staff wouldn’t let her, telling her it was against the policy.

Hebert says a security guard was called, and when she resisted leaving, she was banned for what ended up being a day.

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“I very quietly moved towards my husband, who was frightened – I could see on his face that he was extremely anxious…So I whispered to him, ‘I love you, everything will be fine.’ I kissed him on one side, on the other side, and hugged him. And then I picked up my belongings and left.”

Hebert isn’t alone in her experience.

Shauna McHarg has also been battling Covenant Health. She says she hasn’t been able to see her father for almost two years, and has had her visiting time restricted with her mother.

McHarg is in the process of seeking documents which detail why that is — a fight that’s gone all the way to the courts.

She claims an adjudicator ruled back in August for Covenant Health to provide her with the records.

“Covenant Health went to judicial review, rather than provide me with the records,” McHarg said. “So, that would make me think that there’s something to hide.”

The VP of Medicine & Chief Medical Officer for Covenant Health, Dr. Jeff Robinson, says that while he can’t comment on specific cases, he’s “very confident” that “every effort possible” is made to explain all the circumstances to those involved in cases like this.

“We never try to rush through it, unless there is a direct threat to the patient,” said Robinson. “And we try to make sure that everybody understands. They may not agree, but we do our best effort to make sure that they understand.”

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One example he gave of a situation that may result in a person being kept from seeing a loved one is if the visits end up being too agitating for the patient, who may suffer from mental illness.

Public Interest Alberta is challenging the province to investigate and stop seniors care facilities and other health facilities that decide to ban family members without due process — something it believes is happening far too much.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said the organization’s executive director, Bill Moore-Kilgannon of the cases presented on Thursday.

“We know from our travels around the province that there are many, many more.”

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“It seems to me that there’s often a knee-jerk reaction: ‘well, if you don’t like what we’re doing, you know, you’re out of here. It’s our way or the highway,'” said Allan Garber, a lawyer who works in this field.

He hopes to see a system put in place soon that would allow a review of these decisions.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne , though, insists these incidents are rare, and that the province has good processes to deal with them when they do come up.

“I think we should be focused on the needs of patients and staff in our facilities,” he said.

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The province recently announced details of a new health advocate office, which could be another way people can voice their complaints. It’s expected to be running by April.

Whether that will be enough to help those who feel shut out by the current policies remains to be seen.

With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News

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