An 86-year-old woman died last month on a hospital stretcher in Lévis, Que., after being offered practically nothing to eat or drink for at least 36 hours, her family says, and now they want answers.
“It was recommended that she be placed in an emergency room, pending a possible place in palliative care or geriatrics,” said granddaughter Véronique Labonté.
“But she remained in that cursed corridor, between the screams of a woman in full psychosis and the vomiting of another.”
Gilberte Gosselin was admitted to the emergency room of the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, located south of Quebec City, on Feb. 21 after falling at home. Doctors suspected she had broken her hip, the family said. So she was placed on a stretcher and was left waiting for care.
Labonté said her grandmother, who suffered from cognitive problems, was left in her stool for several hours. Some hospital employees were rude and wouldn’t provide food or drink despite Gosselin’s claims that she was hungry and thirsty, the granddaughter said.
The cafeteria was closed, added Labonté.
“We were able to give her a little applesauce. We had the nerve to ask for a red Jell-O too, which was practically thrown in our face, but oh well. We got it, at least,” said Labonté.
Dog had better end-of-life care
As Gosselin’s condition was deteriorating and she was considered at the end of life a couple days after being admitted, a request for a room was made, but she never gained access.
She died the morning of Feb. 23, still on the stretcher in the emergency room hallway.
“This is the sad end experienced by my loving grandmother,” said Labonté. “To die in one’s feces, in an emergency room’s hallway, between one patient’s bedpan full of urine and another’s vomit.”
Some staff were caring and she thanked them, but Labonté denounced the overall treatment of her grandmother.
“During our 48 hours in the emergency room, we experienced contempt, condescension and I would even dare to say violence,” she said. “My dog, whom I had euthanized on Tuesday just before Grandma fell, had a better end of life. Our health system is sick.”
Overloaded hospital struggles
Mireille Gaudreau speaks for the local health agency, CISSS de Chaudière-Appalaches, that oversees the hospital. She said the patient was in the hospital at a time when it was significantly overloaded, not just in the Hôtel-Dieu’s emergency room, but in other departments as well.
“We received really sick users, with between 30 and 40 people hospitalized in the emergency room waiting to be taken upstairs and between 48 and 68 patients in total on stretchers during this period. We even opened our overflow beds,” said Gaudreau.
The Chaudière-Appalaches health-care workers’ union has denounced the treatment of Gosselin, but president Carole Mercier said it is not uncommon for patients to wait 100 hours on a stretcher at the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis before having a room.
Mercier said other people have died in similar conditions in the Chaudière-Appalaches health network.
“We heard of other similar situations, it’s just that there was no complaint from the family,” she said. “There are others, somewhat dubious situations like that that happen in the emergency room. They are just unknown to the general public and handled internally.”
Dr. David Lussier from the Montreal University Institute of Geriatrics said Gosselin should have had a room.
According to Article 12 of the Act Respecting End-of-Life Care, a person at the end of life must have a private room, Lussier said on Twitter.
“If someone close to you is in a situation similar to this poor lady, contact the complaints commissioner quickly,” he said.
The CISSS spokesperson said the incident will be reviewed by the risk-management department, which will issue recommendations if necessary and those recommendations will be applied.
Labonté said several people who have experienced similar situations have reached out to her since going public — a move, she explained, that her family has made to encourage change.
“I want things to change in hospitals,” she said. “I don’t want other people to die like that, abandoned without care, without respect.”