Family of dementia patient puzzled by COVID rules denying entry at 1 Winnipeg hospital, but not another

Don Winstone is a steadying force in the life of his wife, Donna, who has dementia. He’s the person she looks for when she feels unsettled.

When a COVID-19 diagnosis rushed Donna to Grace Hospital, the family convinced management Don needed to be by her side.

Normally any visits to a COVID-19 patient are forbidden, though exceptions can be made. But when Donna was transferred to Seven Oaks Hospital a few days later once her health improved, the family couldn’t convince the facility to let him in.

“They have the power to grant exemptions, just like Grace [Hospital] did, but they choose not to exercise that,” Don Winstone, 79, said.

“I just think it’s unreasonable that they would deny access to somebody who’s so very vulnerable. It would be a comfort to her if I was there for sure.”

One hospital said yes, one hospital said no

Two hospitals had two tales of handling visitors for COVID-positive patients, the Winstones found.

The standard protocol at Manitoba’s health-care facilities is to deny in-person visits for patients who have, or are suspected of having, COVID-19, but exceptions for essential care providers can be considered if it is the only option to meet the patient’s needs, Shared Health says.

At Grace Hospital, site leadership was initially reluctant to let inside Donna’s primary care provider, but they relented after hearing the pleas from Don and Donna’s eldest son, Brent.

“She realized my mom had high care needs,” Brent Winstone said of the unit manager, during an interview at his parents’ home in Winnipeg’s Wolseley neighborhood.

“At that time, she needed someone to feed her, she needed two people to get in and out of bed. She’s not able to communicate.”

Brent Winstone, center, alongside his parents, Don and Donna, in a recent photo. (Submitted by Brent Winstone)

Donna’s care needs span around the clock. Home care handles the maximum 56 hours a week, and her husband is there the rest of the time.

Don pushed to be there for his wife because he knew of her demands. He wanted to provide the one-on-one support he figured hospital staff were too busy to provide. He conveyed that he would follow all health and safety protocols to ensure he did not contract COVID-19. He is already triple vaccinated.

Though he was welcomed at the Grace, he wasn’t at Seven Oaks. He heard from staff at the latter facility that his wife hasn’t been sleeping well most evenings. On one virtual visit, she seemed to be doing fine, but Don says that was just a snapshot in time.

“I just worry about her being cared for properly. That’s the big worry, that her basic needs are not being met.”

There is a distinction between the two hospitals. In both cases, Donna was isolated from other patients because she is COVID-positive, but at Seven Oaks her unit was declared a COVID outbreak so no patients got visitors, whether they had COVID or not.

Brent said Seven Oaks leadership came up with a workaround — bring your mother home — but Brent said it was unreasonable to set up home care arrangements within a day. Donna did not have visitors until Sunday, after her 10 days of required isolation lapsed.

“The best we can hope for is that my mom doesn’t totally understand what’s happening right now and that, at least some of the time, she’s not upset,” Brent said in an interview last week, explaining his mom can get agitated and can be reassured by a familiar face.

The family is now in talks with getting Donna into the first available bed at a personal care home.

It’s become harder and harder for Don to take care of his wife, especially as he’s recovering from a stroke he had eight months ago.

Don Winstone, left, chats with his son Brent, who together advocated to get Don entry into Seven Oaks Hospital so he could be by his wife’s side. The hospital was denying visitors because she was diagnosed with COVID-19. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority — which operates the Seven Oaks and Grace hospitals — would not speak to the particular’s family case, citing privacy, but said “client relations and care teams are in close contact with the family to discuss a care and communication plan for the patients.”

The spokesperson said it is up to the family to come up with home care supports after a patient who was supported through WRHA’s Self and Family Managed Care Program is discharged from hospital. The family confirmed that Donna has participated in this program.

Brent said the family has nothing but praise for health-care workers at Seven Oaks, but wanted management to exercise the same compassion their counterparts at the Grace extended.

This ordeal gave Don the opportunity to speak for his wife for 53 years, a former school teacher who found happiness through singing in choirs and playing the piano.

“I would encourage anyone else who gets in a similar situation to challenge the system,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work in the best interest of the patient.”

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