Two Saskatoon sisters say they want change at Royal University Hospital, alleging their 86-year-old mother received insufficient care there.
Pauline Ens and Esther Shaw say their mother, Anna Janzen, was not given fluids while in the emergency room, that a doctor incorrectly stated she had consented to not be resuscitated, and that the hospital lost her clothes. The sisters have filed a formal complaint with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
In emails to the family, the health authority offered apologies for some, but not all, of the allegations.
When contacted by CBC, the health authority said it is aware of the situation but unable to comment publicly due to privacy rules. CBC also contacted the Ministry of Health for comment.
In an interview with CBC, Pauline Ens said her mother's experience "was a nightmare right from the beginning."
She says she took her mother to Royal University Hospital at about 10:30 a.m. CST on March 26. The two were concerned Janzen — who has a heart condition and a pacemaker — was having a heart attack or had heart failure, said Ens.
She wanted to go into the emergency room with her mother, who was fading fast. Her mother is also hard of hearing, and Ens said someone needed to explain the situation to the medical staff.
A nurse refused to allow her in, citing COVID-19 restrictions, Ens said.
In an email to the family, the hospital's emergency room manager said "nursing, medical doctor, and occupational health's assessments determined that Anna had no confusion, lived in assisted living, and was an accurate historian; therefore, [she] would not have qualified for visitation by a family member at that time."
Given wrong patient's information
Ens said when she phoned for an update later, she was told her mother had a lung infection and had to stay in the hospital for a few days.
The family didn't think that sounded right. When Ens phoned back, she was told she had been given a different patient's information.
"The nurse apologized immediately and felt very badly that we were given the wrong patient's name or condition. And she even gave me the patient's name. So I know who it was that she was telling me about," Ens said.
The health authority said the emergency department "apologize[s] for this obvious breakdown in communication when the nurse gave an incorrect update to Anna's family."
At the time, Ens was told it would take time to diagnose Janzen's problem but she had tested negative for COVID-19. The family wasn't able to see her until about 32 hours later, when she was moved into the cardiology ward.
Shaw was able to visit Janzen when she was in the ward and says during her first visit, her mother told her she was not given any IVs, fluids or food while in the emergency department.
An emailed statement from the emergency department manager did not address the allegation that Janzen was not given food or water. A statement from the cardiac sciences manager said Janzen was transferred on the morning of March 27 and refused breakfast, but did eat lunch.
'She's trying to fight'
The family alleges things continued to deteriorate with the next conversation with the doctor. Shaw said the doctor told her Janzen had no will to live, and had told the doctors to not resuscitate her.
"I was so incredibly taken away by what he said to me," Shaw said. "I said, 'That's incorrect. She's trying to fight.'"
She was very aware of what was going on, but she just couldn't respond. - Esther Shaw
Shaw said her mother was scared and could respond only by squeezing her hand.
"I said, 'Mom, everything is OK. You're going to be OK.' And I could see the tears coming down … out of her eyes and her lips were quivering. So she knew — she was very aware of what was going on, but she just couldn't respond."
In the end, the family said it took 10 days to find out Janzen's pacemaker was malfunctioning and letting her heart rate go too low, causing decreased blood flow to the brain and making her pass out.
During the stay, Shaw says she repeatedly put in requests for her mother to be showered. However, the nurses refused, citing COVID-19, she said. After the third request, the family was told Jansen could instead simply go home and shower there.
In a statement emailed to the family, the hospital's cardiac sciences manager apologized for the team not meeting care expectations.
"I would like to thank Mrs. Janzen and her family for bringing these concerns forward and allowing us an opportunity to review the care that we provide," the manager said.
The manager also said Janzen wasn't showered because of concerns about interrupting the cardiac monitor she was on.
"I apologize that we did not do a better job in communicating this rationale to the patient and their family when the requests were made," the manager said in their email.
The family also says as they were getting ready to take Janzen home, the hospital phoned and asked them to bring clothing.
"I said, 'Why should I bring her clothes?… She has clothes. She came in with clothes. Where are her clothes?'" Shaw said.
The reply was "We don't know," said Shaw.
A winter coat, her skirt, shirt and underwear were all gone, she said.
Following their complaint to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the sisters say the emergency department manager told them a long period of time had passed since Janzen was there, and that no clothing was located in the lost and found.
In an email, the health authority asked for an itemized list and the value of each item, to consider reimbursement.
Janzen is now on medication that helps her pacemaker function and is back to her old self, Ens said, but her mother's experience raises concerns for her.
Ens said she hopes sharing the story publicly will prevent similar problems from happening to anyone else.
"I was so surprised, because I speak very highly of that hospital," where her mother has gone for care in the past, Ens said.
"Never any problems until now. It was unbelievable horror — horrific experience."