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Special care home not first choice

Dear Editor I would like to respond to "Keep RHL for seniors" (Regional Optimist June 25). I am the mother of one of the under age 40 residents who is occupying a bed at River Heights Lodge.

Dear Editor

I would like to respond to "Keep RHL for seniors" (Regional Optimist June 25).

I am the mother of one of the under age 40 residents who is occupying a bed at River Heights Lodge. While I agree with some of the comments of the writer, I would like to enlighten her as to how and why my son came to be a resident of River Heights Lodge.

On Nov. 29, 2008, my son was in a car accident that caused a traumatic brain injury. He was airlifted to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and spent the next two and half months in ICU and the neurological ward. While he was finally stable, he was still in a partial coma and required hospitalization. This was the start of our contact with the bureaucratic system we call health care.

At the time of the accident, my son lived in the Kindersley area and our health care system wanted him released to what they consider his home hospital. That facility offered no consistent access to the therapies he would need. I wanted him transferred to North Battleford where his family could be on hand to help him recover and be able to make care decisions on his behalf.

After having complied with all the requirements to achieve this, we were told BUH would not accept him as a patient even though I had a general physician in North Battleford who was willing to take him as a patient. A staff person said they had discussed the case with the GP and he was in agreement that my son would have to be sent to his home hospital. I contacted the GP and he advised me he was, in fact, not in agreement with the health district. He had asked this particular staff person to make sure I was aware of that when she gave me their decision.

The situation led me to advise the health region I was making calls to my MLA, MP and chairman of the PNRH. This activism resulted in the health district agreeing to a meeting to discuss my son's condition and needs

On Feb. 4, 2009, my son was finally transferred to the palliative care ward at BUH. I cannot say enough kind words for the nurses, LPNs and SCAs who looked after him during his time there.

My son improved enough to be admitted to Saskatoon City Hospital for rehab on May 27, 2009. During his time there, my son continued to progress and we were advised by staff all along that he would eventually go to Parkridge Centre for more intensive rehab. Until a space came open, he would likely be at SCH for at least six months. On July 22, 2009, we were advised at a family and team care meeting that he would be sent back to North Battleford.

Our first concern was he would lose the ground he had gained because he would not have access to the daily therapies he had been receiving. We relayed our concerns, only to be advised there was a three-year waiting list at Parkridge. My son was not a resident of the Saskatoon Health Region and preference was given to those patients. I was under the impression we all paid into the same provincial health care system and all had the same rights to care in facilities our tax dollars support.

We were assured the SCH care team had been in contact with BUH and its therapy department as to what progress had been made and what my son needed to do in order to get back into rehab at SCH. Upon transfer back to BUH, nothing could have been further from the truth. Once again I found myself constantly requesting information on his therapies, what was needed and when it would start. It took a good six to eight weeks to get everything back on track. During this time, my son regressed and fell into a severe depression. I thought I would lose him all over again. He was eventually transferred back to the palliative care unit at BUH, where he was surrounded by the wonderful people who had cared for him previously. He started to come around and was back to being more like himself.

We were finally advised he would be placed on a waiting list for a place in long term care. Our preference was RHL as we were advised there were five young people there including two young men close to my son's own age. On Dec. 1, 2009, he was moved to RHL and our hopes were high. However, one of the first comments I heard during our introductory tour was that my son belonged in a rehab facility. Did this person think we wanted our family member to be there, that we hadn't tried already to get him into a rehab facility?

We were advised River Heights Lodge was a long term care facility and one of the best in the area. Not an "old folks home." Do I believe placing the young and handicapped with seniors is a bad thing? No. My son was fortunate enough to grow up and go to school with two handicapped people, one of whom was his life long friend and the other a young girl who was mute and communicated by sign language. This skill is something my son and his sister learned and the wonderful thing is, when he first started to come out of his coma, his sister realized he was able to communicate with us through sign language. Imagine if we still had a school system that felt special needs children should be educated separately from others. As for having the young with the seniors, why not? I have seen the maternal instincts of a number of the elderly ladies, no matter what their mental capacity or health condition is, emerge. If they feel some measure of joy being able to help or show concern for a younger person, great. Many of the elderly say the worst part of growing old is feeling useless. Am I sorry my son is taking up one of the beds in River heights Lodge? No. Am I sorry for those seniors who were transferred out of the RHL? Yes.

As for the promises that come from our health care system today, there are no such things as guarantees. Teamwork and communication are not evident at any level. I have learned I have to be my son's advocate, constantly following up on what I have been told or advised would be part of his care and recovery, because if I don't, it doesn't happen.

A specialist has advised me that once a patient such as my son is admitted to a long term care facility I have to "fight" (his word not mine) to get my son back into rehab. To say I was not happy is an understatement. Was I surprised? No. I have had to fight every step of the way to get him the care he is entitled to.

No one what my son's level of recovery will be. The one thing I do know is that everyone we have met, whether staff or other families who have been in similar situations, will tell you is to never give up. The fact my son is even alive is a small miracle. He continues to improve, but he needs to be in a rehab facility to maximize his level of recovery. Our preference as a family would be the Alberta Hospital in Ponoka. They have had some amazing results with the brain injured. I have been advised that the only way he can be sent there is if there isn't another rehab facility in the province that will take him.

Even though my son would be out of the province, the Alberta hospital specializes in the brain injured and would give him the opportunity to be the best person he can possibly be. Isn't that what we all want for our loved ones?

Lynn Balicki

North Battleford

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