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Bed shortage separates elderly couple

Annie and Edmund Baier have known each other since they were children in war-torn Germany. As teens, they escaped from East Germany together, climbing over the Berlin Wall in the dead of night.
Annie Baier gazes at a photograph of her husband, Edmund, who was transferred to the Maidstone Integrated Health Facility, leaving Annie unable to visit him.

Annie and Edmund Baier have known each other since they were children in war-torn Germany. As teens, they escaped from East Germany together, climbing over the Berlin Wall in the dead of night. Edmund immigrated to Canada with his parents, promising Annie he would send for her when he had the money, a promise he fulfilled in two years. The couple was married shortly thereafter in a Lutheran church in North Battleford and, in 54 years of marriage, nothing has separated them, until now.

For the past five years, Edmund's health has been deteriorating, but Annie was able to care for him, until last August, when she needed to have surgery. Edmund was placed in a home for one month while Annie recovered, then came back home.

"At the same time, we applied for putting my husband into a nursing home," said Annie, who said it was difficult decision to make.

On April 28, after nearly a year of being on the waiting list for a bed in a special care home, Edmund's health took a turn for the worse. Annie had to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Edmund remained at the hospital, waiting for a spot to open up at River Heights Lodge. Then, on June 7, Annie received a call from the Prairie Health North Region, asking her to attend a meeting the following day. She was informed that, due to renovations at the hospital, Edmund, along with four other patients waiting for placement in a special care home, would be transferred to Maidstone June 11.

Maidstone is approximately an hour's drive from Battleford. Annie doesn't drive, can't afford the taxi and has no family in the vicinity.

"I like to be independent," said Annie. "If the bus would go there, I would go early in the morning, take it home in the evening, it would be perfect. I wouldn't ask for any help."

While Edmund was in the hospital, Annie went to see him every day, taking him home made food and making sure he was comfortable. Moving Edmund to Maidstone would leave Annie with no way to see her husband, so she begged for an alternative. She even had her son-in-law call from Victoria, but it was no use - Edmund was transferred to the Maidstone Integrated Health Facility June 11.

"For all those years that we lived here, since 1970 in the Battlefords, we raised six children here, we did everything here, we shopped locally. This is our home here, and then when we really need them, they just ship him out. It's so heartbreaking," said Annie as tears welled up in her eyes.

Annie was told Edmund would get the first available bed at River Heights Lodge, and said Joan Zimmer, director of continuing care services for PNHR, promised to arrange for volunteers to drive Annie out to see her husband.

Annie explained, "She said 'I'll get back to you tonight,' and she wrote down my phone number, but I never heard from her."

Annie tried contacting Zimmer, to no avail. Finally, Annie's son-in-law was able to find out Zimmer was on vacation.

"I don't care if she's on holidays, but please let me know one way or the other," said Annie. "This is why I'm really upset: a promise never kept."

Annie has managed to visit her husband a few times, once when her daughter took time off work to drive in from Alberta, and a few times she's gone with Lorraine Wright, a woman she met at the hospital whose father was also transferred to Maidstone.

"I am so very thankful for her," said Annie.

She also expressed a deep appreciation for the staff at Maidstone senior's lodge, who offered to supply Annie with a bed and meals if she wanted to visit her husband overnight.

"It's beautiful facility," said Annie. "If it was closer, and I could drive I wouldn't ask for Edmund to be brought back here."

The experience has been stressful for Annie, who said she is taking medication to sleep as a result of this.

Barbara Jiricka, vice-president of integrated health services at PNHR, apologized for the situation and said PNHR was dealing with five patients and their families at the time.

"Joan went on holidays and she had handed this piece of it off to one of the facility managers," explained Jiricka. "I'm not sure who dropped the ball on that or whether there was a miscommunication."

Jiricka said she empathizes with Annie, as her own mother doesn't drive and her father was moved to a facility 50 km away, where he stayed for two years. She explained PNHR tries to locate patients in special-care homes within 100 km of their community, whereas in other provinces that distance can be greater, such as Ontario, where patients can be located up to 500 km away.

"As bad as this may seem, it's not as bad as it is in some places, and we do try to do our best to look after people," said Jiricka.


Shortly after the Regional Optimist interviewed Annie Baier, she was contacted by Darlene Kingwell, head of volunteer services at PNHR, who arranged for volunteers to drive Baier to see her husband.

The service wasn't needed for long, as Baier was informed her husband would be transferred to River Heights Lodge just before press deadline.

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