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WENDY ELLIOTT: Christina’s world is very small

Wendy Elliott. File
Wendy Elliott. File - SaltWire Network

Christina Tanner is stuck on Med B.

The Wolfville resident has been a patient at Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville since late August 2017 – except for two surgeries in Halifax.

“I need to get out of here,” she tells me in no uncertain terms.

Initially, Christina appears cozily situated. The boxes of craft materials foster that impression, but then a visitor will realize that this 47-year-old has been stuck way too long in hospital.

Using a wheelchair as long as I’ve known her, Christina can no longer transfer herself from bed to wheelchair and her hip tends to ulcerate. She holds her hand way above her head to show how her nursing needs have increased in recent years.

Born in the old Blanchard Fraser Memorial Hospital in Kentville, Christina was her mother’s fifth child. An older sibling was already deceased. Her mom died almost immediately after her birth.

Taken into care, she was placed in the children’s wing at the Evergreen Home for Special Care. Her three other siblings were never part of her life.

Christina has no memory of her early years. She was put into foster care in far off places like Kirkland Lake, Ont. and the Northwest Territories. When I ask her about the foster home she stayed the longest in, Christina responds, “I have no good memories.”

Our conversation jumps to L’Arche Homefires in Wolfville, where I first met her as an expert weaver in the Applewicks workshop. A tease right away, Christina had a quick grin.

Over the years she lived in three different L’Arche homes in Greenwich and Wolfville. Her favourite was on Robie Tufts Drive, where there were no accessibility challenges – except in the winter.

“I was happy to miss the snow this winter,” Christina admits. Then she describes previous ones trying to navigate sidewalks clogged with snow in order to get to Applewicks in her wheelchair - once being rescued by Rosaire and Ingrid Blais.

The price for the safety of the hospital she acknowledges is the view from the room she shares with another woman. Christina has only a brick wall to look out on. It’s a small world.

“It’s horrible. I feel like I’m in frigging jail,” she states.

Christina’s strongest advocate, Sarah Wellwood, a guidance teacher and mother of two, notes that she also spent over six months in hospital in 2015-16 and since recovering from her surgeries, she “has been deeply frustrated for the better part of a year.”

“She’s been in the system for so long,” adds Wellwood, “waiting to move forward.”

For a time, Christina did live independently in a Wolfville apartment after spending seven years on a provincial waiting list. That living situation, with aid from Support Services Group workers, has disappeared. Her best hope is a room at the Kings Rehab Centre in Waterville.

When I tell her they have a swing there for those in wheelchairs, she smiles broadly. Nowadays, time passes extremely slowly. There is no recreation therapy. She does get visitors, like the good women from Wolfville Baptist Church, but her biggest excitement is a shopping trip to Walmart on the Kings Point to Point Transit van.

Wellwood says flatly, “She deserves better. This is an atrocious amount of time. I worry about her mental health.”

We know that a year ago the New Democrats pointed to figures released in a freedom of information request showed 2,281 people waited in hospital for placement in a nursing home over the last five years. We don’t know how long they languished at roughly $1,300 a day.

"We know that about 20 per cent of acute care beds are occupied by people coming from long-term care homes, or who don't necessarily require acute care," said Bev Strachan, who is the president of CUPE 8920, in a March media release. "We also know that since the single health board for the entire province was created in 2015, the length of time people are waiting in hospitals for placement into a LTC bed has increased dramatically, even though we've seen an increase in services provided by home support workers."

Surely to goodness we can do better for the Christina Tanners of this province. Nineteen months in an acute care hospital bed seems unconscionable.

  • Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.

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