A local woman recently experienced one of the unseen “cracks” in our health care system. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, is elderly, disabled and needs a walker and portable oxygen to manage her condition.
In early January, the woman who lives alone suffered a serious health problem and called 911 from her apartment. She was taken by ambulance to Cowichan District Hospital, where she was treated and underwent tests. The following day, she was released and ended up having to take a BC Transit bus to get back to Lake Cowichan. She got off the bus at the stop in front of the Bargain Shop without her walker, oxygen and wearing slippers. It was raining heavily.
“Luckily, I had thought to get them to grab me a pair of pants as they (the ambulance attendants) were taking me out,” she said.
After departing the bus, she made her way into the Bargain Shop to catch her breath and possibly buy some shoes before she attempted to walk home. Bargain Shop employees were concerned by her condition and situation and stepped in to help.
“She’s one of our loyal customers and really nice and there she was with slippers on her feet, in the pouring rain with no walker and no oxygen,” said Ashley Fothergill of the Bargain Shop. “I told her, I’m taking you home.”
Fothergill arranged to take her break and immediately drove the woman home.
According to Central Island VIHA Communications spokeswoman, Anya Nimmon, normal discharge procedure is that an individual is asked if they have a family member that should be called to pick them up. If they have nobody to pick them up, then a social worker becomes involved to work with the individual to arrange transportation.
“Patients may be brought to the hospital by ambulance, but must find their way home if they are ambulatory. In cases where a person requires medical assistance to go back home, “Pacific Companion” is called to transport the patient,” said Nimmon (in an email statement.)
“We live in an area with an aging population and there are not a lot of emergency services for seniors,” said Colleen Olson of Cowichan Lake Community Services. “I know of a few cases where this sort of thing happened.”
In some cases where a discharged patient doesn’t have a ride home, a taxi may be called. For many Cowichan Lake seniors on a limited income, the approximately $70 to $80 cab ride back home after a hospital stay would be just too cost prohibitive.
“Officially there’s nothing in place that I’m aware of,” said Cowichan Lake Seniors’ Association President, Jackie Jack. “I know if someone had called here, I would have come down and picked them up.”
There are private services available for a fee, but for lower income seniors with ongoing health issues, the price may be just too high.
“The point is, we need transportation,” said the women at the heart of the story. “I’m not asking for the world. We need a HandyDart or some kind of transportation for the seniors.”
In this particular case the HandyDart services in place for the Cowichan Valley would not have helped as it needs to be arranged two to three weeks in advance to do a run to Lake Cowichan.
Due to privacy act limitations, it was unclear whether hospital staff was aware of the woman’s limited mobility when she was discharged from Cowichan District Hospital.