An elderly Victoria couple who have both been diagnosed with dementia say they are being held prisoner at Victoria General Hospital and have asked a lawyer to go to B.C. Supreme Court to win their release.
Douglas and Pamela Allen, both 84, are in a transitional care unit at VGH, where patients generally go while waiting for a residential-care bed to become available. “There is no long-term plan in place for my clients,” said Jonathan Aiyadurai, a Victoria lawyer. “My clients should be given the opportunity to go back to their home and have a nurse.”
He released a video of the couple making a statement for the court in which Douglas Allen is restrained. Aiyadurai said restraints were temporary and followed an “incident.”
“I want to go to my home and I’ve wanted [that] for six weeks now. We want to go live our lives as we did before,” Pamela Allen said in the video.
Douglas Allen lay in bed during the video and didn’t speak much.
The Allens used to have a nurse come to their Cook Street suite every second day. On Jan. 5, they walked to Royal Jubilee Hospital to ask about the availability of family doctors.
They were admitted and later transferred to VGH.
“From there, they found themselves on the fourth floor, in the geriatrics ward, and that’s where they’ve been since,” Aiyadurai said.
The couple phoned Aiyadurai and on Feb. 11, he wrote a letter to Island Health demanding the couple’s release from “illegal detention.”
Having dementia makes the Allens more vulnerable “but there are processes in place for that,” Aiyadurai said.
“The hospital is the place for doctors to attend for them and give them daily care . . . and my clients say they’ve hardly seen doctors.
“They say, ‘This isn’t the place for us.’ ”
However, hospital records show doctors making regular updates on their files.
Social workers’ statements on court documents indicate the Allens have been evicted from care homes and have refused medical care.
“I don’t know how true that rings because my clients tell me that’s not the case,” Aiyadurai said.
He believes the Allens’ mental issues don’t interfere with their ability to relate the facts of their case and give him instructions.
But a doctor’s view of Douglas Allen’s competence on Jan. 16, 2014, was not good.
They see themselves the way they were 10 years ago.
“He defers all decisions to his wife, who is not making reasonable decisions,” said Dr. Deviani Maher in documents released by the court.
Pamela Allen has a number of health problems including diabetes, which has not been well-controlled.
Sarah Plank, spokeswoman for Island Health, said she cannot comment on the case to protect the privacy of patients. “I can tell you we take our responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of vulnerable adults very seriously,” Plank said.
Dr. Maria Chung, a geriatrician with Vancouver Coastal Health, said doctors weigh a patient’s wish to go home with their need for medical care.
There are two sorts of patients who want to go home, Chung said. One may be someone who falls, doesn’t take their medication and hasn’t shown they can take care of themselves.
They may want to go home because they value their independence and they accept the risks.
“That’s a competent decision because they are making a decision with all the facts as they are . . . and accept the risks,” she said.
There are limits, though. Patients cannot take risks with their health that may put someone else, such as a spouse, at risk, she said.
There are others who, because of their dementia, don’t have a clear understanding of how poorly they are doing on their own.
“They see themselves the way they were 10 years ago,” Chung said. “It’s kind of like having a computer diagnosing itself. If the computer’s broken, you can’t use it to diagnose itself — you have to use an outside computer.”
Patients with acute dementia cannot understand the risks because their brain is so disabled, Chung said.
When a married couple both suffer from dementia, they need to rely on other family members or friends to be substitute decision-makers. However, in this case, court documents show family members are estranged.
If the person is incapable of making decisions and there is a risk to their well-being if they do so, then health-care providers have to look at other alternatives to their going home, Chung said.