Saturday January 8, 2010


Tragedy Waiting To Happen

Hope senior's death in fire easily preventable

Craig Hill/Voice


n Wednesday, an 80-year-old senior living in the Mt. Hope Hotel apparently fell asleep while smoking.  


Eventually, the sofa caught fire and a passing police officer was first on the scene. She crawled in under the smoke and dragged the man out by his feet.


He was taken to hospital where he later died of burns and smoke inhalation despite heroic efforts by the RCMP Constable Patti Evans. Fire officials later determined that the smoke detector was disconnected and sitting in another part of the room.

Last night there was an incident involving an 81-year-old Chilliwack senior who called police when he wasn't able to get up from his chair. He lived alone.

Two years ago, an 82-year-old man died in his apartment balcony is directly across the alley from where I live. It was 4 or 5 days before he was found.

On the surface, it appears too many seniors are slipping through cracks cavernous enough to drive a semi through.

Many elders live alone in rooming houses or hotels where their safety and security is being compromised by building owners who let their buildings deteriorate.

Not only that, but Fraser Health Authority has relegated the task of caring for stray elders in the community, to some burly guy sitting behind a desk renting rooms out by the week. So that means building managers also have health care worker as part of their job description and training criteria. Should a rent collector have to go beyond the call of duty to care for seniors when it's not their job? How much care is a senior going to get in that scenario?

In the Hope incident, clearly the deceased man was ignored by the building's management or the smoke alarm would never have been disconnected even if they had to check daily.

Boomers are at the age where in the near future they will demand proper care facilities. You really can't unload beds from reassigned care units onto the backs of the community or you'll be faced with an epidemic of preventable deaths.

Gwen O'Mahony, NDP MP candidate for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon posted comments on the Voice's Facebook page yesterday regarding the state of senior care in the province.

It's something O'Mahony is very passionate about after having worked as a community support professional for 15-years. She wrote that both seniors and the mentally ill face the same crisis regarding residential care and the institutionalizing, or warehousing is part of the problem.

"I work for a non-profit organization which provides care homes for persons with disabilities. Our residents enjoy person-centered care in residential homes not institutions and are valued as active members of their communities. Each care home is established on principles of inclusion and dignity and subject to some of the highest standards of care in North America."

O'Mahony points out the disparity that's happening in Canada as the country moves away from institutionalization.

"With the closure of Woodlands came the development of care homes for persons with disabilities, a bright new future for people who society had once shunned. With the closure of Riverview came further marginalization, poverty, despair and for some death, as people who desperately needed support were suddenly sent off to fend for themselves."

She says that Canada needs a standardized policy for care. "We need to end the disparity and we need to increase our dependence on non-profit organizations as service providers. Non-profits are grossly under-utilized."

Every senior above a certain age who lives alone should be checked at least once a week, whether they want it or not. A friendly drop-in or quick call can save a life.

Chilliwack is at a crossing. After the the Hope tragedy the warning signals are flashing and one day the train is going to arrive.


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