Wednesday 23 January 2019

When Homes for Autonomous Seniors Aren't Safe

Today is the fifth anniversary of a terrible fire in a Quebec seniors' home. On the night of January 23, 2014, The Residence du Havre nursing home in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec, was consumed by fire - one that originated in the residence kitchen, but quickly became an inferno. 32 people died and 15 were injured. There was no sprinkler system in the building because the residents were considered to be 'autonomous'. They might have been 'independent' retirees when they moved in, but years later, many of the victims evolved into users of wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Today, half of Quebec seniors' residences still have no sprinkler systems. 

Fast forward to last Sunday, the 20th of January. 93 year old Helene Rowley Hotte, the mother of a prominent Quebec politician, perished in the freezing cold outside her Montreal seniors' residence. A fire alarm sounded in the early morning hours, so Madame Hotte evacuated through the nearest exit. The door locked behind her. Slightly hearing impaired, she apparently did not hear an announcement informing residents that there was no need to evacuate. Security cameras showed Madame Hotte collapsed and perished of hypothermia in sub-zero temperatures. Her body was discovered more than seven hours after the alarm sounded. 

The residence where Madame Hotte lived advertises itself as ideal for 'independent', autonomous seniors. But what exactly IS an independent, autonomous senior? Possibly, there is no such thing. We all age into infirmity, some slowly. We need support to be independent. We depend on others to keep us safe. My mother lived in such a seniors' home until, near the end of her life, her needs dictated a move to assisted living. I remember Mom saying that she and other residents of her 'autonomous' home frequently resisted the urge to call for help for fear that they might be seen as 'too much trouble' and that could lead to 'being evicted'. The effort it takes to follow rules and be no trouble in autonomous seniors homes is quite literally killing people. 

Of course there will be an inquiry into the tragedy of Madame Hotte's death. Someone will likely ask why one of six staff members on duty that night did not do a outdoor perimeter check of the building after the all-clear. Another will ask why, if there were security cameras, no one on duty looked at them. Still another will wonder why, in a residence for older people, no staff members considered that older adults at night and without their hearing aids in, might have heard the alarm and hurried outside into the cold. 

Government ministers have redoubled efforts to ensure that all Quebec seniors' residences are fitted with sprinkler systems. And no doubt, new safety protocols will be developed from lessons learned in the terrible death of Madame Hotte. But I fear that we will continue to read about tragedies so long as we do not protect vulnerable seniors at the same time as we treat them with dignity and support them in both independence and dependence. 


Kathy said...

Thanks for posting!
Web reference: Senior Care Center

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