Today marks 365 days since Rina Visintini’s life changed forever.
It took that many days for the weight on her shoulders to finally be lifted.
But she didn’t heal on her own. Her road to a more peaceful heart came with a lot of determination, persistence, the help of community healthcare advocates, and the ear of Interior Health officials.
“I felt like I got something out from my heart that was stuck in there,” Rina shared. “There was so much anger, most of my friends said they didn’t recognize me.”
Rina’s journey began when her husband died on March 22 last year, one day shy of the Annable couple’s 61st wedding anniversary.
Ernesto Visintini was 93 and lived a very happy and full life as husband, father of two and grandfather of four. He was always quick to smile, very artistic, and a top notch gardener.
His death brought sadness to his family and all who knew him. But it was how he died at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital that stunted Rina’s ability to work through her grief and remember the good times they had during six decades of marriage.
“I found him sitting in a recliner chair at the nurses’ station where he had spent the night because they said he had been restless,” she tearfully recalled of one of his final days.
“He had on only a thin cotton nightgown, fallen off one shoulder and not even one blanket. When I took him back into his bed, he was so cold and needed more than one blanket to try to get warm. I was so upset because I was there all day and told them to call me if there was problems in the night. They should have called me to come back up,” Rina said.
“Less than five days later, my husband died.”
That particular memory was, and still is, very painful for Rina. After his passing, she could not get that recollection off her mind, or other concerns with Ernesto’s care that came up during admissions and discharges immediately prior to his death.
She felt like no one was listening. To top it off, there was an obvious language barrier as the Visintini’s first language is Italian.
Besides Ernesto sitting in the hall with no covers, another hurt she brought forth in a detailed and formal complaint to Interior Health, was about an abrupt discharge days earlier.
Rina recalls being told by an attending doctor that her husband, who had heart failure, fluid on his lungs, and was extremely hard of hearing, was not ready to go home.
That decision changed only hours later when Rina momentarily left the ward to walk downstairs for a cup of coffee. This sudden change of opinion was of grave concern because it was made in Rina’s absence, and Ernesto was without his hearing aids.
“He often said ‘yes’ or ‘okay’ even without hearing or understanding properly,” she explained. “If asked if he was okay to go home … he would have said ‘sure’ without knowing what he was answering. I should have been consulted and asked. Remember, his doctor had just said he did not want Ernesto discharged.”
She remembers her husband was barely able to walk the distance to the elevator due to laboured breathing and weakness.
“Reaching the main lobby, I had to leave him standing, got a wheelchair from the entrance and went to get our car,” Rina recalled. “Ernesto never complained ever, but then he said to me, ‘They are treating me like I am not even sick.’”
As it was, he progressively became more ill at home. So Rina drove her ailing husband back up to the emergency department days later, and the doctor on duty re-admitted him.
These were a few of the primary issues Rina wanted answers to during the IH meeting, in addition to other conditions she recalls witnessing during Ernesto’s time in hospital.
“I saw roommates unable to open food containers,” she said, as an example. “If I had not been there at meals to help both my husband and the roommate, the food would have been removed, untouched. Like the many trays I saw being returned.”
The other primary issue she wanted to address was the fact that she asked staff to phone her if Ernesto called out at night.
“This same roommate said my husband did call for me at night,” she shared. “I should have been notified. When I asked why they didn’t, they said they did not want to disturb me. But it was my right to be told and then I could decide. I would have wanted to come up to the hospital and I am still bothered when I think of it.
“A wife should be told when her husband is calling constantly for her, regardless of the time of night.”
It is important to note that there is a process to submitting a formal complaint to Interior Health. Of course this involves paperwork, so the first thing Rina needed was help. After all, the forms are in English.
Rina connected with a very knowledgeable and caring group of volunteers from the Society for the Protection and Care of Seniors. They helped her take the steps required so a formal meeting with representatives from Interior Health would be considered and subsequently scheduled at a mutually agreed upon location in Trail.
This assistance is what really got the ball rolling.
She was supported by the members, and one advocate was by Rina’s side during the meeting, as a comforting hand (not on behalf of the Society).
“We need to remember that what Rina brought forward is not isolated,” said the advocate, who wished to remain anonymous. “And staff need to be aware of how family members and visitors perceive that. It may all have been done for the right reason, to ensure he didn’t fall out of bed for example, but it can be done in a respectful way and not in a way that does not respect dignity.”
She says Rina didn’t just put forward concerns, she and her daughters also offered some suggestions.
“None of them are rocket science,” the advocate said. “These are basic things, something as simple as having more chairs on the floor for visitors, which they agreed to do … And there was a lot of talk about respect and dignity. The patient care quality officer who facilitated the meeting stated to the family that she would like to use this situation as, and write it up as, something to present to the quality care committee and palliative care committee.”
Another suggestion the family had was for IH to provide continuing education on how issues are presented to patients and caregivers.
“And to be aware of how a family member or visitor may perceive a situation, because (staff) was pretty clear that they brought Ernesto out in the hall because they were worried he would fall out of bed,” she said.
“So the nurses did it with good intention. But it broke Rina’s heart, and the perception was that it was not a good thing.”
At the end of the day, all Rina is hoping for is that her voice was heard and that things will change.
“These concerns may not seem important,” she said. “But when someone is very ill in hospital, having these concerns improved could give peace of mind and maybe even speed recovery.”
Interior Health’s Patient Care Quality Office (PCQO) is the central access point for complaints that are not addressed at the service delivery level.
The health authority states, “The PCQO provides a clear, consistent, timely and transparent process for patients to register complaints about the care they receive from Interior Health.”
The office is located in Kelowna with a toll free number, 1.877.442.2001.