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“Sometimes I feel like a hitman, because we were paying to have our mother killed,”

Published on February 14th, 2020

Josephine Ewashko died from dehydration and a urinary tract infection — caused by sitting in wet diapers — was abused by staff at  Extendicare Viking nursing home. They admitted they were too overworked to care for her properly, according to a scathing government report. She was rushed to hospital in November 2018 and died two weeks later, just shy of her 80th birthday.

“Sometimes I feel like a hitman, because we were paying to have our mother killed,” said her son, Dana Ewashko.

“It’s sickening, is what it is,” he said. “If somebody doesn’t get enough water? Somebody doesn’t get changed? They didn’t do their job.

Shortly after his mother’s death, he complained to Alberta’s office of Protection for Persons in Care (PPC) , which recently issued a report describing Josephine’s slow deterioration due to the staff’s neglect. As a result, says the report, she experienced “serious bodily harm” leading to her death.

The PPC investigation into Josephine’s death found:

  • She was “barely responsive” upon arrival at the hospital.
  • She was “extremely dehydrated.”
  • Blood work detected “critically high sodium levels” — an indication of dehydration and kidney disease.
  • The skin in her mouth “was sloughing off due to dryness.”

The report also noted that, in the weeks leading up to her death, a computer system at Extendicare Viking issued a dozen alerts, noting changes in her condition —  but none was reviewed by a nurse or care aide. Among other things, the alerts signalled:

  •  “New or worsening lethargy.”
  •  “New or worsening disorganized speech.”
  •  “New or worsening altered perception.”

​​​​​​Extendicare — one of the three largest nursing home chains in the country, with 96 homes — has not been fined in this case.

“They’re caring about their profits … I don’t think you can have profit and care in the same sentence,” he says, adding that Extendicare’s CEO received total annual compensation of about $4 million last year.

Dana says in the months leading up to his mother’s death, he and other family members spoke to Extendicare Viking staff many times about her repeated bladder infections, which he says exacerbated her dementia symptoms.

“Her cognitive ability was greatly affected. She would sleep a lot — even fall asleep mid-sentence sometimes,” he said. “It was a lack of care.”

He recalls helping his mother out of her wheelchair three months before she died and looking at its seat cushion.

“It looked kind of an odd shade of black,” he said. “I reached down and touched it and it was soaked in urine. It was as though you took a sponge out of the tub.”

He says when he and other family members asked staff to help their mother get to the bathroom, or change her foul-smelling diaper, it would be hours before a nurse or aide responded.  Josephine’s water glass was often several feet away from her wheelchair.

Family members raised their concerns two months before Josephine’s death, in an October 2018 meeting with nursing home staff. They later learned those concerns were never recorded in their mother’s care program.

“The nurse said he was just too busy to do that type of paperwork,” Dana told Go Public.

A month later, his mother became increasingly weak, was often incoherent and slept for long periods of time. On Nov. 22, 2018, he insisted that she be transferred to hospital. Dana says it’s hard to deal with the grief of knowing his mother’s death may have been preventable, and that Extendicare didn’t pay a financial price.

“People go to jail for treating their pets in the same way,” he said. “It’s pretty shocking that nothing [no fine] has happened.”

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