Family of cancer patient who spent final hours alone in Winnipeg ER gets apology, continues to push for change

It’s been three months since a Winnipeg cancer patient spent most of his final hours alone in an ER bed and his family is still fighting for change.

Alfred Jobse, 70, died in an ambulance after his wife was initially denied access to the hospital.

While the current policy allows access to essential care partners, the family feels it needs to be better communicated to staff so that patients don’t end up dying alone.

“Nobody should have to navigate that alone and my dad shouldn’t have had to,” said Alicia Thwaites, Alfred’s daughter. “Shared Health’s apology to us proves that he should’ve had someone with him.”

The family said Shared Health apologized because Jobse, who had been living with esophageal cancer, spent 12 of his last 18 hours alone in the emergency department at Health Sciences Centre (HSC) due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. This despite his rapidly deteriorating condition which required important decisions to be made about his medical care.

“I met all the criteria,” said Theresa Jobse, Alfred’s wife of 44 years. “He could not make these decisions himself and yet I wasn’t allowed in.”

Theresa, who was fully vaccinated, had to wait around 13 hours before being granted access to the hospital as his essential care partner. By the time his daughters were allowed in the family had less than an hour with Alfred before he started slipping out of consciousness.

“Shared Health said what happened to us was a missed opportunity and that she (Theresa) should have been allowed in,” said daughter Cindy McKague.

The family has reached out to multiple MLAs, health officials and wrote a letter to health minister Audrey Gordon calling on the government to re-evaluate the policies that are communicated to staff.

They got a letter back from an assistant deputy minister but no meeting with Gordon, who on Friday pledged to bring up the issue again with Shared Health.

“That’s where the visitor protocol is developed,” said Gordon. “And it is developed by a clinical team and it is designed to keep patients in hospital, as well as staff, safe.”

While policies are needed to protect public health, they can have long lasting psychological impacts on patients and family members, according to Harvey Max Chochinov, a psychiatry professor at University of Manitoba.

“They’re not there to advocate for their dying loved one. They’re not able to provide support,” Chochinov said. “They’re left with many lingering questions. Did they get good care? Was everything done to attend to their needs towards the end of life?”

Chochinov and a team of U of M researchers are studying the impacts of the pandemic on end-of-life care and bereavement.

Jobse died on the morning Sep. 3 in an ambulance during a transfer from HSC to a palliative care bed at St. Boniface Hospital.

His family said they had to fight just to make sure Theresa could travel with him. And while they said it won’t change what they experienced, they hope speaking out spares other families from going through the same thing.

“Policy makers need to make sure that the staff on the ground are aware they have the power to make these exceptions,” said Thwaites.

Shared Health said the allowance of essential care partners in the emergency department is still subject to the assessment of space, activity and a patient’s needs.

A spokesperson said Shared Health recognizes the emotional strain this puts on patients and their families and that policies will continue to be regularly reviewed as the pandemic progresses.

Jobse’s family plans to donate blood in his memory on Dec. 10. They said he received three units during his time in hospital and they want to donate as way of honouring him and giving back to others.