Alan Bangay is busy managing the affairs of his late wife Ute, who died May 24. Ute, 74, lived at Highland Wood Long-Term Care but had to move out when the building’s roof failed four months ago.
Many Highland Wood residents started returning to the facility June 3 but Ute and at least one other person won’t be coming back.
Bangay said moving was arduous for Ute. He described her changing locations four times in a three-week span, each move wearing her down.
She came down with pneumonia and passed away soon afterward, he said.
“I can’t prove that the moves, they of themselves, caused her to die. I can’t prove that. But I think it had a strong influence on her ability to stay with us,” he told The Highlander.
Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) vice president of support services and chief financial officer Kathy Newton said the organization does everything it can to support families during difficult times. But she added that long-term care residents passing away in a four-month timeframe is not abnormal.
“It’s a normal fact of life with our particular population,” Newton said. “That’s not unheard of.”
She added she could not comment on individual circumstances but family members know their relatives best.
“Common sense would tell you any kind of change, some people deal with change well and some people don’t,” she said.
Highland Wood Family Council acting chair Terry Hartwick also lost her mother during Highland Wood’s closure.
Ethel Marinelli, 89, passed away at Peterborough’s Riverview Manor April 22 after a respiratory infection aggravated her interstitial lung disease.
Hartwick said Marinelli received excellent care there but the move was still hard on her.
“It was a difficult thing for my mom. It was sudden, it was disruptive,” Hartwick said. “Because my mom had a stroke (before moving to Highland Wood), routines and familiarity of place and people, they were pretty important in helping her feel comfortable and safe.”
Hartwick did not fault the move as contributing to her mother’s death. But she stressed the importance of keeping things steady for long-term care residents.
“She was fairly well up there in age,” she said. “For elderly people, these kind of moves are a difficult thing … we have to remember that these are homes for these people and we need to keep them as stable as we can.”
Expert talks about move
Dr. Veronique Boscart said although moving to a new facility can be detrimental for long-term care residents, it is difficult to say it would impact their overall health.
Boscart is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Schlegel Industrial Chair for Colleges in Seniors Care and a gerontology researcher.
She said it can be difficult for a long-term care patient to move to a new care facility with staff who may not know them as intimately.
“That can lead to awkwardness, and if you have dementia, can lead to anxiety,” Boscart said.
But it is another thing to say that such a move would affect health outcomes.
“To have an impact on health outcomes would be a pretty difficult thing to say, just on a general scenario,” she said.
She noted long-term care patients have a medical assessment and care plan, meaning staff taking on residents from a different facility would have detailed patient information to work from.
“The care level would have been exactly the same.” Boscart said unfortunately, people in long-term care are not in great shape.
“The problem is it’s hard to distinguish what would have happened because of natural decline, compared to natural decline and the move,” she said.
Lessons to be learned
Newton said HHHS could not disclose how many of Highland Wood’s 28 residents passed away before June 3. S
he cited privacy concerns and said the facility’s small population could make people identifiable if the number was released.
Although HHHS moved residents to Haliburton Extendicare after the closure, most relocated elsewhere due to limited space.
Some went to Hyland Crest in Minden and others were taken from there to facilities outside the community.
Ute Bangay was moved to Lindsay, where she remained until her family decided to bring her back to Haliburton when space opened.
“Every time she moved, she would be quieter than normal for a while. That number of moves in that timeframe was just ridiculous,” Alan Bangay said.
“She’s in a situation with a whole bunch of new faces and some of what they did was not quite what they did in the last place,” he added.“For people who are in that age group and who are already not as able mentally, that’s far too much without serious effects happening.”
Newton said residents had to be moved quickly, necessitating nearby facilities be used as transfer points. But Extendicare and Hyland Crest did not have enough room for all of them, requiring further moves.
“We didn’t have enough physical space here for them without undue risk to everyone,” Newton said.
Hartwick said there would need to be discussions between families and HHHS to see what can be learned from the evacuation.
“That’s going to be the positive way going forward. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with their plan, I’m just saying you can always learn something new,” she said.
Although Bangay said staff performed admirably given the circumstances, he lamented Highland Wood having to close at all.
“If there hadn’t been a necessity to make any moves, it’s probable that my wife would still be with us, I think,” Bangay said. “The overall circumstances would, if nothing else, accelerate death for some people.”
The Highlander will have part two of its investigation into Highland Wood, detailing the circumstances around the roof failing, in its June 27 edition.