His partner died while awaiting home palliative care. Now he wants to be accountable

Eric De Schepper's partner Katherine Ellis died on Saturday after opting for palliative care at home after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer last month.  (Submitted by Eric De Schepper - photo credit)

Eric De Schepper’s partner Katherine Ellis died on Saturday after opting for palliative care at home after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer last month. (Submitted by Eric De Schepper – photo credit)

A Winnipeg man whose partner went without palliative home care for more than five weeks before her death said he filed a complaint with the Manitoba Ombudsman about the experience.

Eric De Schepper named the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in the misconduct disclosure form he filed with the independent government office on Wednesday after going public with his story last week.

His partner, 62-year-old Katherine Ellis, died on Saturday after opting for palliative care at home after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer last month.

De Schepper said in the period between Elli’s return home in mid-January and her death this weekend, he was left to look after her without the home care promised when they left hospital.

That meant his partner of decades had to lie on the same sheets for weeks without more than a sponge bath because De Schepper couldn’t help her out of bed on her own.

He said every time he asked his palliative care coordinator for home care, he was told they didn’t have the resources to send workers.

“It’s a shame. I don’t know what to say,” said De Schepper, 58.

“I’m speechless that this is happening in our modern society.”

Tara Lee Procter, regional chief of Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Health Services – Community and Continuing Care, said she requested Wednesday “a full review of the circumstances surrounding this situation and our planning and management processes so that we can prevent similar situations in the future.” .”

“The WRHA Home Care Program offers our community an incredibly valuable service with care delivered by dedicated and compassionate professionals,” Procter said in an emailed statement.

“Nevertheless, this situation shows that we need it [to] – and must – do better.”

Submitted by Eric De Schepper

Submitted by Eric De Schepper

Manitoba Secretary of Seniors and Long-Term Care Scott Johnston confirmed Wednesday that the Winnipeg Regional Board of Health will conduct an investigation.

“I think it’s unacceptable,” Johnston said, adding that Health Secretary Audrey Gordon felt the same way.

“As we speak an investigation is underway to determine where the system has fallen and again this is certainly a situation that no one is condoning, including our government.”

David Kuxhaus, the Ombudsman’s lead investigator, said in an email the office could not identify complainants or provide details of their affairs.

Kuxhaus said the forms that complainants fill out help the ombudsman assess “whether that’s the case [a] Matter within our jurisdiction which we may resolve informally or where it requires further review by our office.”

He added that misconduct does not involve “routine operational or personnel issues.”

Home care finally sent – after death

After weeks of waiting for help, De Schepper said it finally arrived this week – three days after Elli’s death.

While WRHA told him last week that they were able to arrange home care for him – after he shared his story – he said he had informed the entity twice over the weekend that he no longer needed them as his partner had died .

Despite this, a home orderly showed up on Tuesday morning, followed shortly by a truck delivering medical supplies.

Alana Cole/CBC

Alana Cole/CBC

“It felt like a slap in the face, to be honest,” De Schepper said.

“I find that a bit silly because that home care worker could have been sent to another family who could have put their services to much better use than, well, a deceased person.

“My question is: Do these departments communicate with each other at all? Or what is going on here? None of this makes very much sense, to tell you the truth.”

After sharing his story last week, De Schepper said WRHA had delivered relief supplies, including a hospital bed and an air mattress. While this was helpful, his partner was only able to use it for one night before she died.

“What they didn’t provide was what was really needed: human resources, home care workers, short-term workers. It all came too late,” he said.

Mourning a loss, pushing for change

De Schepper said he submitted the report to the Ombudsman because he wants to take responsibility for what happened to his partner – and change so it doesn’t happen to other people.

“This is an issue that affects everyone in Manitoba: you, me, your kids, your parents, your grandparents,” he said.

“I find it unacceptable that we are not receiving the home care we need.”

And while his family is planning a memorial for Ellis for later this year, they’re still grieving the loss – and reflecting on how things could have been different.

“I feel traumatized. Other members of my family expressed the same concerns. They feel bullied, they feel traumatized,” he said.

“We feel and understand that if Katherine had received the resources she so desperately needs from the start in week one, the stress and trauma placed on this family would have been much less.

“Katherine would have… had a far better quality of life than she received during her few weeks of life left.”


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