VICTORIA — A British Columbia man’s claim that his wife was held hostage in a care facility has prompted a stinging report from the office of the province’s ombudsperson and an apology from a health authority.
David and Nancy Varcoe’s bureaucratic odyssey began when she was admitted to the Penticton, B.C., hospital for emergency treatment in late 2010. She was then transferred to a care facility in March 2011 and held there until May 2013 despite her wishes to be discharged.
“My wife was held like a hostage,” Varcoe said Thursday. “If this isn’t unlawful confinement, or leading to that, what else is?”
The Office of the Ombudsperson investigated the couple’s complaint and ordered Interior Health to formally apologize, refund more than $25,000 in residential care fees, develop guidelines and train staff on responsibilities under the Adult Guardianship Act.
Nancy Varcoe, 60, a registered nurse, suffered a series of strokes over the years and is now partially paralysed. She also has several other health issues and is currently in hospital in Penticton after suffering a fall.
Her husband contacted the ombudsperson in 2012 with concerns that Interior Health refused to discharge her. She had been admitted to the care home as an involuntary patient under the Mental Health Act.
A two-page report, dated April 2, 2015, and signed by Rachel Warren, an officer in the Office of the Ombudsperson, said Interior Health staff believed the woman was vulnerable and had concerns about how she would be cared for at home.
But the report said staff didn’t take the steps set out under legislation to pursue an order allowing them take over the woman’s care.
Varcoe’s power of attorney was revoked without providing her with access to a lawyer and the Public Guardian then began managing her legal and financial affairs, the report said.
Interior Health may have inaccurately represented its authority to place Varcoe in residential care, the report concluded.
“The health authority did not have adequate reason to detain her, and after spending over two years in care against her wishes, a decision by the review panel ordered Ms. Varcoe be immediately discharged home.”
Interior Health sent the Varcoes a letter of apology last January, signed by Karen Bloemink, residential services executive director.
“I regret that it took an Ombudsperson’s investigation for Interior Health to recognize that an apology was in order,” she said in the letter.
Mistakes were made, she added.
“As a result, Nancy was detained at Westview Place without proper statutory authority.”
Varcoe said Interior Health at first sought to deduct $8,000 from the $25,589.48 in fees paid for his wife’s care. The authority also asked the Varcoes to sign a document stating they would not launch legal action as a condition of accepting the reimbursement.
“There was nothing offered for pain and suffering,” he said. “There was nothing offered for anything else.”
Varcoe said he recently received a cheque for the full fee, but he’s still considering legal action.
Health Minister Terry Lake acknowledged the Varcoes’ case, but said he could not discuss it in detail.
“It’s difficult to understand all of the complexities of cases like this,” Lake said. “However, with all the good intentions and intent we must ensure we are following all of the legal processes that are necessary to ensure people’s rights are protected.”