Son with autism stuck in hospital as mom struggles to find accessible home

Son with autism stuck in hospital as mom struggles to find accessible home

Derek Ridsdale would like to return to life as it was before his surgery, when he lived in a comfortable Calgary townhouse with his mom and spent his spare time volunteering with an autism support organization.

Ridsdale, who has autism and cerebral palsy, went into Foothills Medical Centre for back surgery in Nov. 2017 but suffered a rare spinal stroke, initially paralyzing him from the chest down.

"It's been tough," said Ridsdale, 20. "I've been in the hospital for about eight months now."

According to his mother, Janet Ridsdale, he could have gone home in May. Instead he's been stuck in hospital for six weeks longer than medically necessary because he has nowhere to go.

He can't return to their three-storey townhouse rental.

"We've looked at many, many houses but unfortunately… I haven't been able to find an accessible home for him to come home to," she  said. 

With intensive therapy, she said her son has regained some mobility, but he still needs a wheelchair most of the time.

"It's been pretty frustrating because he's worked really hard. He's medically stable. He could go home and he can't," Janet Ridsdale said.

Advocate say shortage is chronic

This is a reality for many Albertans, said Anita Hofer, director of development at Accessible Housing. The Calgary-based non-profit organization provides long-term accessible housing.

"It's not uncommon for people to be stuck waiting in hospital because their current home is no longer one they can live in," Hofer said.

Subsidized accessible housing is especially needed, she said, as many people who require the service are low-income.

Guy Coulombe, manager of programs and services with Spinal Cord Injury Alberta, gets several calls a week from families desperate to find a suitable place to live.

"It was an issue 25 years ago and it's still an issue today," Coulombe said. "It's just not getting any better and isn't being addressed."

That takes a huge toll on families, he said, as they're already dealing with stress of adjusting to life after an injury or traumatic health event.

"I think it takes all three levels of government to work together to build social housing and/or put some incentives in for building developers to make units that are accessible," he said.

Cost to healthcare system

Coulombe believes there is a solid economic argument to be made for investing in more affordable, accessible housing.

"It's shortsighted… to have people backed up in hospital beds," he said.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) said it doesn't track how many people are in Derek Ridsdale's position because that number can change daily.

It is unclear exactly how much it is costing the healthcare system as he sits in hospital waiting for an accessible home.

According to AHS, the average stay on a neurological ward, where a patient does not require intensive care, costs $940 per day.

At that rate, a six week stay would add up to $39,480.

That's how long Derek Ridsdale has been stuck in hospital because he has nowhere suitable to live.

"It's all coming out of our healthcare dollars," Coulombe said.

"If there was more [accessible] housing or proper transitional housing… it would cost a bit more upfront but overall the healthcare system would be saving a lot of dollars in the long run."

His future

For now Janet Ridsdale spends as much time as she can visiting the hospital. She is forging on with her hunt for a rental where she and Derek can live together, and where she can put the supports in place that he needs.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the mother and son raise money to buy and renovate a suitable home of their own.

"Everything's on hold at the moment," she said. "We'd love for him to get home."

The move can't come soon enough for Derek Ridsdale. He's eager to get out of his hospital room and return to doing what he loves: volunteering at the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary.

"So I can get back to my life," he said.

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