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October 26, 2011

Dementia Led to Tragdy (CANADA)

Tina Palmer's 88-year-old aunt wandered out on a winter's night and froze to death. She still feels it could have been avoided.

By Sam Cooper, The Province 
October 23, 2011

Tina had been trying to get Etty help in a care home due to dementia.
Three days before Christmas, 88-year-old Etty Bassani walked out of her Abbotsford home wearing only a house coat and slippers. The overnight temperature on Dec. 22, 2008, was about -15 Celsius. Bassani, a former nurse, lived alone and weighed just under 90 pounds. Dementia had slowly, inevitably, overpowered her mind. She had poor eyesight, a weak heart and couldn't remember more than two minutes into the past. She wandered around for several hours and was later found frozen to death in her driveway.
Tina Palmer, Bassani's niece, has never forgotten that night. She's struggled with the "senseless, tragic death" of Bassani for years and after reading about elder abuse and neglect in The Province's Boomerangst series, decided to share her story.
"Would anyone leave a five-year old child alone and tell people that child has a right to be at risk?" Palmer wrote. "I loved my aunt . . . I was only trying to get help, but I was made to feel like a pariah by so many people. My only wish is that someone else doesn't go through what I did."
In an interview, Palmer explained that after she pressed Fraser Health repeatedly, telling them Bassani was at danger living alone in a large house, a cognitive assessment was completed. Bassani didn't fare too well, according to Palmer, but was judged to have enough capacity to live in her own home.
"It was always the same story: 'She's got a right to be at risk,'" Palmer said. "After she died, I called and said, 'I came to you guys for help and you didn't listen to me and this is what happened.'"
Len Palmer, Tina's husband, says Bassani's situation was complicated by a struggle among some people to gain control of her affairs.
"Some people took advantage of her, and my wife was outraged, but every time she tried to do something, she ran into a wall," he said. "Any normal person could see Etty was not capable of looking after herself . . . but [officials] were acting like we were some sort of villains, like you're trying to get your aunt committed and all this sort of stuff."
The issue of consent to care and mental capacity is extremely complex, elder law expert Krista James says, although B.C.'s law is simple: a mentally capable person has a right to live at risk.
"When someone from the health authority goes out, they are assessing at that time," James said. "It sounds like there was a change in capacity since the most recent assessment [in the Bassani case.]"
Roy Thorpe-Dorward, spokesman for Fraser Health, said since the Bassani case was not active, files were locked away and the authority could not review documents to make a direct response to questions by The Province's deadline.
Leanne Lange, clinical specialist in adult abuse and neglect for Fraser Health, could not comment directly on Bassani's case.
She said Fraser Health plans to adopt a standard assessment framework in 2012, and acknowledged that perhaps the province could adopt one assessment standard, as some critics suggest. But judgments will always be complicated, Lange said, and officials must strive to respect rights and support people to stay in their homes, since it can be detrimental to remove a dementia sufferer from familiar surroundings.
"We do the best we can and things do evolve very quickly," Lange said. "The cases are grey and complex. They are family-dynamics-based, and financial stuff is happening."
In another case, 91-year-old war veteran Clark Bertram allegedly fell victim to a care aide who was originally contracted through Vancouver Coastal Health to provide home care for Bertram's wife. That contract ended in 2003, but the woman then made a private contract to clean Bertram's Richmond home for him, says his daughter, Anne Rideout.
Rideout found out in 2005 her father had "loaned" his housekeeper $6,000. She warned him to be careful, but Bertram insisted the woman was his "friend" and Rideout deferred to his judgment. Later Rideout learned her father, whose dementia was worsening, had given the housekeeper enough for her new car purchase.
In January 2011, Rideout visited her father and found $4,000 in $100 bills on his table. He told her it was the last money from his safe. She fired the housekeeper, changed the locks and filed complaints with Coastal Health and the police.
Up to $65,000 had been taken from her father's account in "gifts," Rideout alleges. But the kind-hearted war vet did not want to press charges.
"The officer said, 'Unfortunately, this is a grey area because there was no crime committed in the eyes of the law,'" Rideout said. "She didn't hold a gun to his head."
Rideout says her father eventually offered a sheepish confession.
"He knew all along that he was being manipulated, but she did it in a kind way."
Coastal Health spokeswoman Anna Marie D'Angelo confirmed the "care aide" continues to be employed, but said: "We did get this complaint and investigated, and this care aide was not our employee and this gentleman was not our client at the time of these allegations . . . this would be a police matter."
D'Angelo added that no concern had been raised about the individual during her employment, and that the allegations only came to Coastal Health's attention this year, six years after the events.
Provincial ombudsperson Kim Clark has suggested that in her upcoming report on home care for seniors, she will recommend that all gifts from clients to staff be reported and authorized.
Rideout says the care-aide incident forced her father to face his vulnerability and he is now happy in a Richmond care home.
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SOURCE:       The Province
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