No changes on horizon after two Okanagan care home deaths linked to resident aggression: IHA

The Interior Health Authority (IHA) said no “specific changes” are on the horizon as health officials investigate the death of two residents inside Okanagan care facilities.

On Nov. 30, 83-year-old Marilyn Claire Anderson, who was a dementia patient at Orchard Haven in Keremeos, was rushed to hospital after an altercation with another patient. She died 13 days later. The BC Coroner’s Service is investigating her exact cause of death.

On December 18, Kelowna RCMP said an altercation happened between two seniors at Spring Valley Care Centre. A 90-year-old Kelowna woman died the following day. The facility is privately-operated.

IHA said it is reviewing the circumstances of both incidents and is focusing on managing unpredictable behaviour, as opposed to specific changes to staffing or infrastructure.

“Caring for people with behavioral and physiological symptoms, so people with unpredictable behaviours, is a key focus for Interior Health,” said Cindy Kozak-Campbell, executive director of long-term care services.

“We’ve just completed a funded project with the specialist services committee of B.C., where we were able to enhance education across all of our sites. We’ve recently increased our knowledge coordinator support, so we’ve added three full-time physicians, improved our communication pathways with our geriatric psychiatry colleagues,” she added.

Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate, said it is an unfortunate situation for all families involved and incidents resulting in fatalities is rare.

“The most directly affected person is the person who suffered from the aggressive actions of the other resident, and the family members of that person,” she said. “But the person who was responsible for the aggressive behaviours and their families are also victims in this as well, because we’re talking about non-culpable behaviour for the most part.”

So, the question is: What needs to be done to prevent this from happening again?

An answer has yet to be found, but Mackenzie says the Office of the Seniors Advocate for B.C. tracks resident-to-resident aggression, saying incidents range in any given year from a low of 420 to a high of 490. There is approximately 27,000 seniors in residential care across the province.

“Last year, the number of incidents reduced from the previous year,” said Mackenzie. “We examined whether there was any pattern of predictability around who was going to become aggressive, whether there was a particular type of environment where it was more likely to happen.

“We were unable to find anything other than a time-of-day predictability, but a fairly wide range, between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.”

“We do know that you can use certain types of training and therapies to reduce the likelihood; not to eliminate it, but to reduce the likelihood of aggressive outbursts,” Mackenzie added.

“We do know there are ways of working with people to de-escalate aggressive behaviours. We could certainly look at increasing and mandating training for all staff in care facilities in these techniques, and I think we could potentially see some reduction in these incidents.”

The review into the incident involving Anderson is expected to be complete by the end of the week and will be shared with the victim’s family.

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