A Winnipeg man whose partner is dying of cancer is speaking out against the palliative home care he says has failed his loved one in her final days.
Katherine Ellis was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in late fall. In mid-January, she opted for palliative home care to spend her final days surrounded by loved ones, her partner of 10 years Eric de Schepper told Global News on Friday.
“It’s not easy, but what hurts me most right now is that the system is failing her on so many levels,” he said.
Last month, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority promised them home care workers would come by weekly to provide her care and respite for him, de Schepper said. But until he went public with his story, that support didn’t happen, he said.
“That’s dehumanizing. I mean, she was (lying) there for almost four weeks in, on a bed, on the same sheets without me being (able) to switch the sheets, because that’s a two-person job, without me being able to properly wash her.
“All I could is give a sponge bath, was use sanitary wipes.”
The transition from CancerCare Manitoba to home care also didn’t run smoothly, he said. After CancerCare services stopped, de Schepper said he was forced to find another team of health care providers, including an oncologist and social worker.
“Luckily, I had made notes at the hospital, and the doctors are around, so I was aware of her medical regimen. I had asked copies of her charts at the hospital, which allowed me then to puzzle together her regimen at the hospital, which I copied over and applied here.”
De Schepper began a leave of absence from work Feb. 1 to care for Ellis full-time.
“It’s pretty much a 24-7 job,” he said, adding that one of her sons was watching her while de Schepper spoke with Global News in the living room of their home.
“It’s very stressful.”
Solutions being rolled out: WHRA
The WRHA’s home care program (not its palliative care program) is experiencing staffing shortages, much like other areas within the health care sector, a spokesperson with the health authority told Global News in an emailed statement Friday.
The WRHA has already launched a program to train 300 people to become uncertified home care attendants, the WRHA’s president and CEO Mike Nader said at an unrelated press conference earlier on Friday.
“I will anticipate that we will start to see some, many of those vacancies that we’re seeing in home care begin to be filled between now and early into the spring,” Nader said.
The WRHA is also reviewing schedules and working to make its system more efficient, on top of contracting out services and offering overtime to existing staff, the spokesperson continued.
CUPE 204, the union representing home care workers, applauds the move — but its president Debbie Boissonneault doubts the WRHA will be able to find enough people to fill those positions.
The shortage existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
Workers continue leaving the sector due to poor benefits and salaries along with few sick days and the high cost of fuel, she said.
“They’re leaving because they don’t feel like they’re respected the same as other bodies in the health care system,” Boissonneault said. “They’re leaving because they’re saddened by when they to clients’ homes, and clients tell them that nobody’s been (there) for two days.”
The nature of the profession also challenges recruitment and retention, Boissonneault said.
“It takes a certain person,” she continued. “They are in close proximity of people’s personal space, right? They’re bathing them. They’re taking them to the bathroom.”
Previous efforts to bring uncertified workers in from other industries weren’t always successful, especially when they realized what home care entailed, Boissonneault said.
Meanwhile, de Schepper is pleading for change, so more loved ones can die with dignity.
“I experience it as causing undue hardships, adding more hardships that are already are to two situations, very stressful and bad enough”
The province is working on a seniors’ strategy with plans to release it before the end of the month, a spokesperson for Seniors and Long-term Care Minister Scott Johnson said.