News Local

Barrie resident has been separated from his wife for more than a year

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Living alone at his IOOF residence in Barrie, 91-year-old Allister McKerroll has been separated from his wife for more than a year now. He hopes she can be moved into the IOOF's long-term facility next door. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

Living alone at his IOOF residence in Barrie, 91-year-old Allister McKerroll has been separated from his wife for more than a year now. He hopes she can be moved into the IOOF's long-term facility next door. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

Ninety-one-year-old Allister McKerroll and his wife spent 30 years fundraising for the retirement home he now lives in alone.

Married for 69 years, the Barrie man says he is at his wit’s end as he grapples with provincial red tape that keeps his wife, Marion, in a long-term care facility in one end of town as beds in his facility are filled by strangers.

“Mom and Dad have been here for 12 years,” said their daughter, Diane Redman. “She just wants to go home.”

Redman talks on the speaker phone from her father’s apartment in the retirement-living portion of the International Oddfellows and Rebekahs (IOOF) home on Brooks Street, as her brother Bud McKerroll helps their father Allister settle into his favourite chair.

Redman lives in Niagara Falls, but has been working the phones, fax machine and with help from her daughter, emails in her attempts to reunite her parents.

Crocheted colourful Afghan blankets decorate each cozy armchair in the well-appointed, one-bedroom apartment that overlooks a treed courtyard.

It was in that very courtyard that Marion, who was 84 at the time, walked out to speak with a neighbour. It was there she slipped and fell, badly snapping the bone in her arm.

“She went to see a lady at the shed, one of her friends. But when I came back, she was lying on the sidewalk,” Allister said, reliving the memory of finding his wife in distress.

Redman said her mother spent the next 10 months in the geriatric ward at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, where her arm healed but her mental and physical condition deteriorated.

She returned to their apartment at the IOOF facility with Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) personal support workers attending, but her needs were too much for Allister to manage, so they requested long-term care.

Marion has dementia, is confined to a wheelchair and has a catheter.

“The personal support workers couldn’t handle her – she’s not mobile – and she was deteriorating really bad, so she went on the crisis list for long-term care,” Bud said.

With their first choice the IOOF long-term care facility adjoined to Allister’s building by an enclosed bridge, they hoped for the best.

“With the bridge to the other side (long-term care facility), I could just ride my scooter over and we could have orange juice together every day,” he said. “I wouldn’t even have to go outside. That was the plan when they built the bridge, that we could be together.”

But the CCAC’s crisis listing doesn’t designate beds using the family’s wish list; it’s often the next available bed in the region offered.

Marion was moved to the Owen Hill Community Care Centre last fall.

Bud regularly drives his father across town so he can visit his wife at the small semi-private room Marion shares with another patient.

“She’s getting what she needs, but not with much space. And there’s nowhere for them to visit. It’s basically just a hallway,” Bud said.

But asking CCAC to transfer their mother back to IOOF has been met with a myriad of roadblocks.

“We have worked with them to find a solution that supported reunification,” said Anne-Marie Kungl-Baker, director of communications at CCAC.

The CCAC’s placement priority chart ranges from Category 1 – someone in crisis who requires immediate long-term care – through seven categories ending with veterans living at home with supports.

Marion should likely fall under a Category 2 classification that states: “people who need to be reunified with their spouse/partners who are currently residing in a long-term care home, and who meet eligibility requirements (including care needs).”

While Kungl-Baker can’t speak specifically about the McKerroll’s file – although the family, including Allister have given her permission to do so – the CCAC’s reunification offer has Allister giving up his apartment to live with Marion in the Owen Hill long-term care facility across town.

“We absolutely appreciate someone would prefer to move to a location where their spouse is, but the crisis wait-list supersedes any other request,” Kungl-Baker said.

“If the family says ‘we choose to reunify but we’re waiting for a specific location’, that’s their choice,” she said.

That McKerroll was an Oddfellow member and Marion the female equivalent, called a Rebekah, for 60 years, who fundraised together for 30 years to build the IOOF facility has no bearing on CCAC’s decision.

“I totally respect the family has a strong relationship with the place and I would assume she’s on the wait list, but I can’t confirm that,” Kungl-Baker said.

IOOF CEO Garry Hopkins received a letter from Redman detailing the position her parents have been placed in.

Hopkins said when he oversaw the Salvation Army’s retirement living, they had a policy called ‘aging in place’ that would help in this situation.

“In a similar situation, we would have said, ‘if you come into our facility, this is where you die’. In other words, this is your home,” Hopkins said.

Yet, he admits his hands are tied when it comes to helping the McKerrolls because although he can allow residents to move from one apartment or assisted-living apartment to another, once it involves his long-term bed facility, the <inistry of Health and Long Term Care determines who gets those beds and when.

“My heart bleeds for Mr. McKerroll when I see him, bent over, pushing his walker. We have tried to deal with the CCAC. We’ve said, ‘what if someone from here moved over there, could they just make a switch?’ But we’ve not been successful in doing that,” he said. “We’re open to that. We’re open to anything.”

Hopkins said he would like the ministry to allow each long-term care facility to have control over one-in-four of its own beds, so they could make determinations on situations as needed.

Although the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Integrated Health Network (LHIN) oversees CCAC, it doesn’t look after long-term care co-ordination, said spokeswoman Jessica Dolan.

So Redman and her brother sent a fax to the Patient Ombudsman asking for a review of their file.

The former deputy Progressive Conservative leader Christine Elliott was appointed Ontario’s first patient ombudsman last July.

Depending on how complicated each case is, Elliott said they try to find a resolution within 30 days.

“We’re here to seek fairness in health care and typically, we can mediate a resolution quickly. In two-thirds of the cases, it’s a communications or perceived communications issue,” Elliott said.

Although Elliott said she couldn’t speak specifically about the McKerroll file, she did say she was following the situation closely.

“I think it’s a situation where anyone would hope it could be resolved in their favour,” she said. 

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