Saturday, August 18, 2007

Broken system

I know most of you have heard different versions of this same story before, but this one hits pretty hard, pretty close to home for me. There is a shortage of hospital beds in BC. There is a shortage of physical beds, a shortage of nurses, a shortage of physicians, and most of all a shortage of operating room time. There are operating rooms that sit empty and unused and specialists who sit in their offices, constrained by government restrictions on how many hours per week they can operate. Operations are expensive. Meanwhile, people sit on waiting lists for months and years for surgery. I waited 8 months for heart surgery (the first time) and ten months for heart surgery again (the second time). Brent waited 18 months for knee surgery.
Anyways, this is apparantly 'high' on the government's agenda. A focus, apparantly, shortening these waitlists. A quieter, less highlighted problem is the shortage of extended care beds in the province. If a person is of an age that they need to live in a care facility, they go on a wait list. In fact, I've seen physicians tell their families to call an ambulance for a loved one because they physician figures that if an elderly person is taking up an ER bed, extended care units will be more accomodating about finding a bed. If there is no bed, there is no bed, and the elderly person more often than not winds up for days in the emergency department until the family gets fed up and takes them home, or a bed opens up on a medical ward, wich is inappropriate because the person needs extended care, not medical care. Someone in ECU needs to die before a bed opens up.
If one is elderly and rich, finding extended care is not a problem, by the way. There are very nice pay as you go extended care facilities in this province. I'm spending my kids' inheritance on a nice one when I'm old. I'm dead serious.
Anyways, often when extended care beds open up, couples who have been married for long periods of time and who both need extended care, are split up. It is rare for two beds to be available at the same facility at the same time, and often the separation is not rectified afterwards, when beds DO open up.
Well early this morning in North Vancouver a sad version of this occurred. An elderly couple in their late 70s both needed to enter extended care, and the wife was palliative (meaning she was dying and needed care to die comfortably and with dignity). The province was unable to provide them with extended care in the same facility (you would think they could share a bed, or a bedroom, but they can't even share a building) so this couple was going to be split up.
Well, instead, they made a suicide pact and together jumped off the balcony of the 14th story of an apartment building in North Vancouver. This jump was approximately 135 feet. Needless to say, they did not survive.
Most of the time I don't post regarding the inevitable encounters with death that I have at work, but this one had to be spoken about. It is wrong to separate couples at the end of their lives, when they need more comfort than ever before, and have spent more time together than apart! Who wants to die alone? Suicide rates amongst the elderly are surprisingly high. Or not so surprising, given this type of situation. I had to speak out about this, if only on my blog.


Sara, Leigh, and Kaleb said...

Mel, I think this is an incredibly sad and unfortunately very familiar story. Thank you for sharing it even if only your audience hears it. This is such a crisis that we're ignoring. An aging population and nowhere to put them. As the children of the boomers the responsibility to care for them will fall on our shoulders. We can not wait for the government to fix the problem, it is already a crisis. If people are killing themselves to avoid being separated then this issue is already far too tragic to be ignored.

Anonymous said...

How my heart aches. I cannot imagine the pain they must have felt. What can we, as Christians, as humans who feel, do to prevent something like that?