Our seniors care system is operating with a severe lack of standards. So what happens when the BC Ministry of Health gets into the cross hairs of a former Canadian Forces court martials judge?
Ombudsperson, BCCLA and Greens criticize BC’s draconian laws.
I WAS READING THE CORONER’S REPORT on Kathleen Palamarek and something didn’t seem right. I’d been following her story since 2006. This was a diminutive, timid, 88-year-old nursing home resident with dementia and a heart condition, who’d been somewhat controversially diagnosed with dementia-related psychosis. She’d died of a heart attack. The coroner had found the antipsychotic olanzapine in her body.
Palamarek hadn’t been taking olanzapine willingly; she’d frequently complained about feeling woozy and “drugged up.” She couldn’t refuse the drug, though, because her doctors had declared her incapable and, when she’d protested, they’d certified her under BC’s Mental Health Act (MHA). Antipsychotics are being used increasingly in seniors’ homes as chemical restraints to pacify and control people. But Health Canada has issued the highest possible warnings to doctors that antipsychotics are “not approved for the treatment of patients with dementia-related psychosis” and that these powerful tranquillizers have been linked to a near-doubling of death rates in the elderly, mostly from heart attacks.
Yet here’s what coroner Stan Lajoie wrote about Kathleen Palamarek’s heart attack: “Death was clearly and unequivocally due to natural causes.” There was not so much as a hint anywhere in his seven-page report that her heart attack might have been linked to a drug known to dramatically increase heart attacks in the heart-weakened elderly. Why?
Resistance to BC Hydro’s smart meters still seems strong, but it’s hard to tell who’s winning.
A BC Hydro rep gave a presentation at a recent meeting about energy conservation initiatives. Unbidden, he began by letting us know, “One thing we’re not going to discuss today is smart meters.”
Since I was filling in for a friend and not there “as journalist,” I won’t disclose details. Suffice to say the meeting was filled with people very supportive of energy conservation.
When the BC Hydro rep inadvertently mentioned smart meters some minutes later, he interrupted himself: “Let’s not go there.”
When his PowerPoint slide about smart meters popped up, he jumped to the next slide. He wasn’t even going to try to make the case for them to this knowledgeable group.
As we received this in polite silence, it began to sink in for all of us, I think, just how deeply damaging the Liberal “slam smart meters down their throats” campaign has been for BC Hydro’s reputation.
A retired Saanich woman, not keen to have a smart meter in her home, recently called to tell me her story. After some exchanges of emails and phone calls with various BC Hydro representatives, she said, one rep “ended our phone discussion with the interesting advice that I should be looking into alternative energy sources.”
Smart meters won’t endanger health or privacy, and will conserve energy, reduce theft, and produce cost savings. Or so BC Hydro tells us. But is there a hidden agenda driving what may be a billion-dollar boondoggle?
One exchange at BC Hydro’s tense public meeting in Victoria in March was emblematic of the debates about smart meters. Asked about the health dangers of smart meters’ wireless electromagnetic fields (EMF), BC Hydro consultant Dr John Blatherwick explained they’d rarely be transmitting, anyway: “Those things will be [operating] for one minute [per day] on average, up to a maximum of three [minutes].”
BC Hydro has said the same, but coming from a former Vancouver chief medical officer, this reassurance carried weight.
However, Walter McGinnis, an electrician who retrofits homes to reduce EMFs, said the meters actually communicate constantly, but in energy micro-bursts. He claimed BC Hydro was using sleight of hand to disguise that—like claiming a strobe light flashing on for 0.05 seconds every half second is technically only “on” for six minutes per hour.
“I have tested it,” said McGinnis. “The meter does transmit all day every day.”
“I can’t debate that with you,” returned Blatherwick. “I do not know the specifics.”
It was shocking to see Blatherwick blithely switch from shining a responsible, authoritative light onto the technical reasons why we needn’t worry, to admitting being in the dark about what he was even talking about.
There’s much to learn about BC’s laws and eldercare system from the last years of Kathleen Palamarek’s life in a local nursing home—especially from the battles that were fought in her name between her children, care providers and the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
It was a small but important epitaph for a much-loved woman. NDP West Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy spoke in the provincial legislature in June in support of a public inquiry into the recent “suspicious death” of Kathleen Palamarek, an 88-year-old resident of Broadmead Lodge in Saanich.
During Lois Sampson née Palamarek’s five-year struggle to help get her mother out of the nursing home, Kathleen became an icon to local seniors advocates. That’s why the Saanich Peninsula Health Association, Vancouver Island Association of Family Councils, Old Age Pensioners Organization local, and others have been blitzing politicians, media and public agencies with requests for an inquiry.
“[T]he suspected abuse was due to overmedication, and the family needs answers,” said Conroy.
Yet the story involves much more than possible improper medicating; I’ve been following it since 2006. Kathleen’s life, and now death, is a tragic example of how our outdated guardianship laws summarily declare seniors “incapable” and thereby turn them into battle zones over which families, health professionals and others fight for control amidst an increasingly troubled eldercare system.