Visitor restrictions delayed wife's access to Winnipeg ER to support dying husband, family says

A Winnipeg family is calling on the province to re-evaluate COVID-19 visitor restrictions in emergency departments, which they say prevented an essential care partner from helping and comforting a loved one dying of cancer.

“It was too late,” said Theresa Jobse, whose husband Alfred Jobse died Sep.3.

At the couple’s Winnipeg home, Jobse’s two daughters comforted their mom Monday as they spoke about his time in a Winnipeg emergency department.

It’s only been around a month and a half since the family was forced to say goodbye in a way they feel no family should have to.

“If I was ever struggling in my life, he’s who I called,” said daughter Alicia Thwaites. “And we’re struggling right now and I can’t call him because he’s not here anymore.”

Jobse, 70, came to Canada from the Netherlands in 1973. The sailor, photographer and music lover had been living with stage three esophageal cancer since April.

On the morning of Sep. 2, Jobse collapsed at home and was taken by ambulance to the emergency department at Health Sciences Centre. Due to COVID-19 protocols, Theresa was denied access as his essential care partner. The whole family is fully vaccinated.

“So we just took her to the hospital and we stood outside the ER and waited,” said daughter Cindy McKague.

The family stayed in contact by messaging Jobse and tried getting updates from the hospital but found that difficult as the staff was busy.

They learned later that night he had a scope and needed a stent to try to slow or stop internal bleeding – health decisions the family said an essential care partner should’ve been involved in.

“He should be allowed his essential care partner,” said Thwaites. “He should’ve been allowed somebody there to advocate for him, to help with decision-making, to keep him comfortable.”

It wasn’t the first time an essential care partner wasn’t allowed in the ER with Jobse. The family said Theresa was also denied access during a previous visit when Jobse found out by himself his cancer had spread.

The family wrote a letter to Audrey Gordon, Manitoba’s Health Minister, detailing their concerns and calling on the province to re-evaluate the rules. It was sent by registered mail Thursday to confirm it was received.

“I don’t want it to happen to another family,” Theresa said. “Whether you’re having cancer, a heart attack, a stroke, you should be allowed your care person in with you at all times.”

When asked about the family’s letter Monday, Gordon’s press secretary responded with a statement from Manitoba Health.

“Guidance for essential caregivers can be provided by Shared Health,” the statement reads. “MB Health and Seniors Care cannot discuss specific incidents.”

Not only did Jobse’s wife want to be there, his family said he needed someone by his side.

Shared Health said the allowance of an essential care partner in the emergency department is based on space, activity and the patient’s needs.

“The ability to manage each area’s overall activity within the confines of the environment and physical distancing requirements is dynamic and at the discretion of the emergency department/facility,” a Shared Health spokesperson said.

Shared Health said visitation policies have been regularly reviewed throughout the pandemic, to find a balance between known risks of COVID-19 and the valuable connections patients have with loved ones.

The spokesperson said a patient relations team has reached out to the family to answer any questions and discuss concerns they have about Jobse’s care.

While back at home, more than 12 hours after her husband was taken to hospital, Theresa said she received a call from the hospital at midnight asking what Jobse’s end of life wishes were.

Only at that point, at 1 a.m., the morning after Jobse was taken to the ER was she allowed in to see her dying husband.

“And I said you have to let our daughters in if he’s not going to make it the night,” Theresa said.

Both daughters were allowed in but by the time they got to see Jobse, the family said he was no longer fully aware or coherent. They said they got to be with him less than an hour before he lost consciousness for the last time. He was transferred later that morning by ambulance to receive palliative care at St. Boniface Hospital.

“My dad died in the ambulance,” Thwaites said.

While they find comfort looking at photos and talking about memories, they are still having a hard time dealing with what happened in the final few hours of his life.

“If I can stand in a concert with 600 other people, or if people can go to a Bomber game with thousands of other people, my fully vaccinated mother should’ve been allowed to be with her husband in an emergent situation like this,” Thwaites said. “Why was she not allowed in?”