Son of Whitehorse continuing care home resident finds father own doctor after treatment concerns

A sign outside the Whistle Bend Place continuing care facility in Whitehorse. Mike Webster says he found his father a doctor outside the facility after a series of care issues. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
A sign outside the Whistle Bend Place continuing care facility in Whitehorse. Mike Webster says he found his father a doctor outside the facility after a series of care issues. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)

The son of a Whitehorse continuing care home resident says he now takes his father to an outside doctor after a series of quality-of-care disputes, including his father getting opioids against his wishes.

In a phone interview, Mike Webster said he feels like he's had to constantly advocate for 86-year-old Norm Webster on issues from hearing aid battery changes to medical assessments after Norm moved into Whistle Bend Place in early 2020.

Among Mike's top concerns were staff allegedly ignoring his father's medication preferences.

"Before going into Whistle Bend, he put right on the application, 'No opioids,'" Mike said.

"Well, day one, he was given opioids."

Norm, on the same phone call, confirmed he'd told Whistle Bend Place he didn't want opioids for pain but "they didn't seem to pay any attention."

Mike said his father's wish stemmed from being on a "whole host of mismanaged medications" that "really clouded his thinking and energy" until just a few years ago. The medications were for chronic pain from old injuries including a broken back.

"He's quite proud of the fact that he's able to manage pain in a different way… Managing pain with opioids just is not in his playbook," Mike said.

The Yukon health department ignored the CBC's requests for an interview with the assistant deputy minister of continuing care. Instead, spokesperson Mairi Macrae said in an email that the department could not comment on continuing care residents or their circumstances due to privacy legislation.

However, Macrae wrote that the continuing care branch "strives for a person-centered approach to providing care" which includes preserving autonomy and providing "support based on individual goals and preferences" as well as "opportunities for meaningful engagement."

Macrae also wrote that residents or their family members "not satisfied with the care that they have received… are invited to provide feedback directly to their care team" or via formal feedback forms available at continuing care homes or online.

Situation 'very much better' after finding own doctor

Mike Webster, however, said he felt conversations with management at Whistle Bend Place have been unproductive and at times confrontational.

Besides his father's wishes around opioids, he said he's also had to raise concerns, among other things, about his father being given a cognitive assessment when his hearing aids weren't working. He also alleged his father was put on a special diet after an assessment at the facility found he couldn't swallow properly; however, he took his father to get an independent assessment which determined that he just needed to get new dentures and could continue to eat regular meals.

While he'd considered moving his father back home, Mike said he ultimately decided against it because his father enjoys other aspects of living at Whistle Bend Place, including the company, social activities and food. Instead, he said they recently settled on another route — finding a family doctor for Norm outside of the facility.

"With the family doctor now in place, [we'll] be able to focus very specifically on his needs and wishes for medical care," Mike said.

Norm said he thought the arrangement was "very much better," adding that "things are settling right down."

Yukon Party MLA and health critic Brad Cathers, who'd raised the Websters' concerns in the legislative assembly last year, said in an interview that "it's not always an easy situation" when it comes to concerned family members of continuing care residents.

However, he said he's also heard from other families with relatives at Whistle Bend who are unhappy with the care, and that it was ultimately the government's responsibility to create an effective system for those concerns to be properly responded to and addressed.

"The heart of the situation is family members wanting to ensure that their loved one in a continuing care facility is being cared for in a way that ensures them the best quality of life possible," Cathers said.

"And unfortunately, in this particular situation, it's gotten to a bit of a conflict."