DESPITE desperate pleas to be at her husband’s bedside during his 18-hour stay at the Health Sciences Centre emergency department, Theresa Jobse was only granted a few, fleeting hours with her partner of 46 years before he died.
The grieving family is calling for changes to hospital visitation policy so other patients do not have to suffer without the support and comfort of loved ones.
Alfred Jobse, 70, was taken by ambulance to HSC on Sept. 2, after he collapsed at home.
The Stage 3 cancer patient spent a total of 13 hours in the downtown hospital without a single visitor — despite his entire family being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — due to pandemic infection prevention protocols that restrict emergency department patients from having a support person at their bedside, unless they are nearing death.
"I would have done anything to be with him," Theresa Jobse said while holding back tears. "I would have gone in there with full gear on, masks, everything, if they would have just let me in to be with him."
When he was able, Alicia Thwaites said her father tried to reassure them via text messages, as they waited desperately for hours outside the hospital for an update.
"He didn’t want us to worry. That’s just the type of person he was. He also knew that we were phoning the ER for regular updates," Thwaites said. "And he asked us to leave the ER staff alone because they’re doing their best."
However, her father’s condition was deteriorating, and by 9 p.m., staff informed the family Jobse had undergone a procedure and had internal bleeding in his esophagus. Still, he was not permitted to have a visitor, Thwaites said.
"There are options to allow care partners to be there safely," she said. "My mom should have been beside him that whole time."
At midnight, the family received another call, this time asking about Jobse’s end-of-life wishes.
"We had no idea before then that the situation was this dire because there wasn’t enough people working to be able to tell us that," Thwaites said. "We had no idea that this was even a possibility."
Thwaites said her father was no longer fully coherent by the time family were permitted in, but he was able to speak with them for about a half-hour before slipping out of consciousness.
Jobse died the morning of Sept. 3, while being transported to a palliative care bed at St. Boniface Hospital. After initially being refused, his wife was permitted to be in the transport vehicle, following advocacy by the family.
Thwaites said the experience has been devastating and traumatizing, especially knowing the little time they had left with their loved one was restricted. She wants to see other families spared from the same trauma.
"It’s horrendous having to relive this over and over again, but we made the decision to come forward, because if nobody says anything, nothing will change."
The family wrote Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon last week, detailing its experience and asking for concrete action to improve conditions in the acute care system, including recruiting more staff to respond to mounting pressures.
"I want to see the government re-evaluate the visitor policies in the emergency room, at least the visitor policies that are communicated to the staff on the ground," Thwaites said.
A Free Press request for an interview with Gordon was not accommodated Tuesday.
In a statement, Gordon’s press secretary said visitation policies are determined by Shared Health, and specific incidents cannot be discussed by Manitoba Health and Seniors Care.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Shared Health defended its policy, stating visitor access to emergency departments is subject to "space, activity and the patient’s need." Visitation is also at the discretion of the facility, the statement said.
A request for an interview was not accommodated.
"Shared Health is reviewing the specifics of this incident and our patient relations team has reached out to the family and will remain a resource and contact for them for any questions or concerns related to their loved one’s care," a spokesperson said.
Shared Health also acknowledged acute care patients are generally sicker and staying in hospital for longer periods of time, possibly due to delayed care related to the pandemic.
As a result, patient flow is being interrupted and impacting the ability to move patients out of the emergency department and into other areas of the hospital where visitation policies are relaxed.
"Significant efforts are being made to ensure appropriate and stabilized staffing levels in all our emergency departments," the spokesperson said. "We anticipate the overall vacancy rate to be reduced from 20 per cent to approximately 14 per cent, as recent graduates join the department this month."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.