Word that Judy Tomlinson’s 94-year-old mother would be loaded into a stretcher van and transferred to Hamiota Health Centre from St. Boniface Hospital came just 30 minutes before the senior was sent roughly 300 kilometres away from her family.
"I wasn’t informed and I had no time to process this or really go and talk to mom and explain things to her," Tomlinson said in an interview Wednesday with the Free Press.
"I had to do it over the phone, and my mom was distraught and crying. She didn’t understand why they were moving her. She didn’t know why they seemed to be picking on her."
Tomlinson’s mother, Jeanne Mymryk, is one of 58 hospital patients who have been transferred out of their home community since late October under a new COVID-19 pandemic protocol.
Earlier this fall, Shared Health began moving stable patients across Manitoba to free up high-acuity beds to deal with a growing number of patients admitted to hospital with more complex illness due to the pandemic and increases in respiratory diseases.
"She shouldn’t have been moved that far away from her support system," Tomlinson said. "My mom is one of many senior citizens that have been displaced, and it’s just wrong.
"I consider it senior abuse."
Mymryk suffered a heart attack in mid-November and was admitted to St. Boniface in Winnipeg, where it was also discovered she was experiencing a serious infection that required treatment, Tomlinson said.
“My mom is one of many senior citizens that have been displaced, and it’s just wrong. I consider it senior abuse.” – Judy Tomlinson
Last Thursday, staff requested family agree to an inter-facility transfer — possibly to Seven Oaks General Hospital or Selkirk — if St. B needed to make space for another patient.
The next day, Tomlinson received a call that a transfer to Hamiota, near Brandon, was imminent. She was unable to get to the hospital in time to help her mother prepare or to pack her belongings.
Tomlinson said the trip to Hamiota took nearly seven hours due to poor highway conditions and her mother was not offered food during the transfer, after missing dinner at the city hospital.
She questioned why frail, vulnerable seniors, some of whom have dementia, are not being given the option to stay closer to home.
“These seniors can’t fight for themselves and I just find it totally wrong that they’re being targeted.” – Judy Tomlinson
"These seniors can’t fight for themselves and I just find it totally wrong that they’re being targeted," Tomlinson said.
Shared Health was unable to provide data Wednesday on the ages of transferred patients, but said candidates for transfer are often people who are paneled, or awaiting panel, for placement in a nursing home.
So far, 37 patients were transferred out of Winnipeg and 21 transferred out of Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority.
A spokesperson for Shared Health said they are not aware of any critical incidents or unintended outcomes related to the transfer policy.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon stood by the protocol Wednesday, and noted clinicians, not politicians, are making decisions about who is transferred where.
"Those decisions are being made to ensure that COVID and non-COVID care continues to be provided to all Manitobans," Gordon said. "A few weeks ago, someone said to me that no one sees the patient that is waiting.
"We have to ensure that individuals who are waiting, individuals who are in the health-care system are able to receive the care they need."
Gordon said the protocol is not unlike transfer policies used pre-pandemic, and it ensures patients who are transferred receive "safe, quality care."
“The PC government shouldn’t be moving seniors around our province like pieces on a chessboard. They have to reflect on the impact that this is having, not only emotionally on families but also on seniors’ ability to recover.” – NDP Leader Wab Kinew
"I don’t want anyone to get the impression that they are somehow being duped from the care that they should receive," she said. "They are being transferred to the appropriate level of care in Manitoba."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said patients are suffering without their family close at hand and called on the government to put an end to out-of-region transfers involving seniors.
"The PC government shouldn’t be moving seniors around our province like pieces on a chessboard," Kinew said. "They have to reflect on the impact that this is having, not only emotionally on families but also on seniors’ ability to recover."
Despite the "disturbing" transfer and the distress it caused her mother, Tomlinson said the care provided by staff at St. Boniface and Hamiota was outstanding. Her mother is now recovering in Hamiota and can return to her assisted living facility in Winnipeg as soon as home care services are scheduled.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.