Father spent two days on floor after fall says family suing N.S. home-care company

A Nova Scotia family suing a home-care company for missing two scheduled visits with their father say they were shocked to learn the company says the man’s adult children are partially to blame for what happened to him when he fell in his home. 

Stephen Slaunwhite said he believes his dad, John — then 84 — was on the floor for nearly two days after a fall at his home in Terence Bay, N.S., a rural community just outside Halifax, 

“He was very weak, barely conscious, very confused, he had blood around his mouth,” said Slaunwhite, who discovered his dad on the floor in September 2019 after getting a call from a neighbour saying the home’s blinds were closed all weekend.

“He was severely dehydrated. It was obvious he was on the floor for a long time.”

Slaunwhite’s father had been released from hospital several weeks earlier after recovering from a hip fracture.

At that time, Nova Scotia’s provincial health authority worked with the family and Closing the Gap home-care company to come up with a plan for daily check-ins.

Company was expected to check in every morning

Closing the Gap was to check in every morning, prepare John’s breakfast and do some general housekeeping, said Slaunwhite.

“We were quite comfortable with his mental state and his physical condition,” said Slaunwhite. “At that time dad’s capabilities were, he was very well. He would call us if he needed anything. He was taking his own medication.”

Slaunwhite and his two siblings came up with a plan to visit Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. They brought their dad supper and enough leftovers to last the next day or the weekend.

Slaunwhite said there were times that Closing the Gap would call, saying an employee couldn’t get to the house until the afternoon. In those cases, he would visit in the morning to make sure his dad was all right.

The siblings had agreed they’d move their dad to a facility if at any point they felt he needed more intense care, he said.

“If at any time we felt it was unsafe for him to be home, we were just going to say, ‘Listen dad, it’s time to go.'”

John’s adult children say their father was in great shape before the fall. They say he always took his medication and they felt comfortable with him staying at home. (Submitted by Stephen Slaunwhite)

Walker was upside down in the corner

On Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, a neighbour called the family to say John’s blinds had been down the whole weekend. The neighbour was concerned.

When Slaunwhite couldn’t reach his dad on the phone, he went to the house and found John on the floor in the bedroom. His elbows and knees were bruised. His walker was upside down in the corner. 

Slaunwhite immediately called for an ambulance. While he waited, he said he noticed his father’s medication for Saturday and Sunday hadn’t been touched.

Last check-in was two days earlier according to log book

He checked the log book for the home-care worker and saw the last entry was Friday at 1 p.m., Slaunwhite said.

“So they were late on Friday showing up for their morning visit, and they didn’t show up Saturday or Sunday for a visit,” he said.

John was taken to the hospital and stayed there until mid-November. It took days for him to eat solid foods again, Slaunwhite said.

“He was in hard shape, he was very weak,” he said

No apology or explanation

Slaunwhite said a manager from Closing the Gap told his sister that the home-care worker had sent an email apologizing to her supervisor.

But the siblings still don’t know why the visits were missed, he said. They don’t know if a home-care worker showed up, then left when their dad didn’t answer the door — or if nobody went to the house at all.

They haven’t received an apology or a full explanation of what happened, and that’s why they decided to sue, he said.

Stephen Slaunwhite says he’s shocked that Closing the Gap never apologized after missing two visits with his father. He says the family was motivated to sue the company because they believe they deserve answers. (Stephen Slaunwhite)

This isn’t the first complaint in Nova Scotia about the company. In 2015, Closing the Gap apologized to a St. Margaret’s Bay family after home-care workers were frequently late or failed to show up at all on some occasions. 

Company says adult children share responsibility

Slaunwhite said he is shocked by how the company responded to their legal claim: Closing the Gap said the three adult children bear some of the responsibility.

In court documents, Closing the Gap said if there was injury, loss or damage from the alleged situation, it “was otherwise contributed to by, the failure of the applicant’s children to attend at the residence daily.”

Closing the Gap said the family insisted on allowing John to move back home in early September 2019, despite hesitations from medical staff about John’s ability to remain home alone. It said Nova Scotia’s health authority recommended twice daily visits, including one from the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), to administer medication.

The company said the family pushed against that, and instead the agreement was one home-care visit in the morning, and that the family would “attend to provide him with his evening meal.”

Slaunwhite disputes that, saying he and his siblings would have never allowed their father to go home if they weren’t confident in his independence.

Company: worker didn’t know about spare key

“We certainly didn’t agree that we were going to go down every day,” he said.  “If that’s the case, if we were going to visit every day, we wouldn’t need home care.”

Closing the Gap also said it didn’t know there was a spare key available for the house until after that weekend. Slaunwhite also vehemently disputes that.

He said he was the one who showed the home-care worker where the spare key was — on the window ledge. He said she made a note on her phone to share with her colleagues so they would be aware.

“There’s no question,” he said. “That was one of the ways we felt confident that they would make quick access to the house and get in if there was an issue with dad.”

Slaunwhite said even if the worker didn’t find the key, they didn’t follow protocol because they didn’t call the family to say they couldn’t get in the house.

“To leave a gentlemen, 84 years old at the time, on the floor for two days and not make an official apology — It was disgusting when they turned around and said it was our fault.”

Company hired again

Closing the Gap declined an interview with CBC News, saying in an email: “Closing the Gap’s position is laid out in publicly available documents. We cannot comment beyond that as the legal proceeding is ongoing.”

When pressed further to comment on protocols to ensure staff show up to do their home-care checks, the company replied: “Clients of Closing the Gap can rest assured that their care is our top priority.”

When John’s condition did improve, his son said they again wanted him to return to his house. But the family found themselves in an uncomfortable position.

Closing the Gap is the only company that services the area, so the family hired it once again.

Surveillance cameras installed in the house

This time, Slaunwhite said, they installed cameras in the house, so they could frequently check on their dad. They also got an emergency alert button.

However, in the summer of 2020, John’s health had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer live alone, he said. 

“Dad actually ended up in a long-term care facility much sooner than we ever expected, so his costs are adding up.”

Slaunwhite said they are looking for some money to help with those bills, but he said the legal fight is also about responsibility.

“Even if we were going to visit dad every day, it doesn’t take their responsibility away from showing up and doing their job,” he said.

The health authority also won’t comment on the specific case because of the legal action. It said it works with agencies funded and approved by the Department of Health and Wellness.

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