Where was the back-up plan?

Kevin Curley
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Families of seniors question rules in wake of power outage

Sisters Vera Crummey and Ann Hart assumed the law provided for privately owned seniors homes to have generators. On Saturday they found, to their dismay, that was not the case.

Vera Crummey (left) and her mother warming up in Crummey’s house on Sunday afternoon. Crummey removed her mother home from the Clarenville Retirement Center on Saturday night when she discovered the facility had no back-up system 

When the power went out across the island Saturday morning, Hart decided to check in on her mother-in-law and her mother.

Her mother-in-law, who lives at Golden Heights Manor in Bonavista, was comfortable and warm.

Emergency back-up generators were keeping the Manor – which is a government-owned facility – powered up.

“She was comfy and cozy with the generators going. She didn’t even know the power was gone,” Hart told The Packet.

Hart, who lives in Port Union, then called her mother at the Clarenville Retirement Center and discovered there was no generator at that facility.

Concerned, Hart contacted her sister, Vera, who lives in Clarenville.

Crummey had also assumed that any facility that cares for seniors would also have backup power.

“We thought maybe mom just didn’t fully understand the situation,” Crummey said. “I went down and there was no generator, no lights and no heat. They had everyone in the common area with the propane fireplace.”

Crummey says her biggest concern was that some some residents didn’t even have flashlights.

“A couple of the people commented that they were afraid of the dark. I went to the workers and they couldn’t really do anything. They were frustrated but couldn’t really speak out,” says Crummey.

Crummey says staff told her that residents are supposed to have their own flashlights.

“My mother didn’t have a flashlight so I had to get one for her.”

Crummey says she contacted family members of some other residents to let them know of the need for flashlights.

According to Crummey, “When I contacted some of the local people, they were blown away. They couldn’t believe there was no generator.

“So the public was not aware, family members were not aware that this was going on. So only that I went down myself was the only reason we knew.”

Crummey’s mother didn’t want to leave the comfort of the common area so Crummey left, promising to check in on her later.

“I went back at 9 p.m. and it was pitch black. I could hardly find her room and there were people wandering in the halls.”

Crummey says there were no emergency lights on in the hallways, just flashlights laid down in the hall for residents to use to find their way around.

Crummey says she found her mother freezing in her room and convinced her to come home with her.

Crummey says she would like to think that all seniors home are required by law to have backup generators.

“The manager had indicated to me, because of our concerns, that she would contact the owners of the residence and have a generator up and running by Monday,” she says.

Crummey also told The Packet that the manager was trying to contact the Canadian Red Cross on Saturday to get extra blankets for the residents.

“There was no extra blankets, these residents just had one sheet and one little blanket on their beds,” she says.

She adds the staff of the retirement center was doing the best they could with what they had but she felt there should have been an emergency plan in place.

“Seemed like there were no extra supplies such as batteries, blankets and flashlights. There was no security lights in the hallway. It makes us very nervous and concerned for our elderly,” she says.

Crummey says she was particularly concerned about the lack of lighting.

“These seniors get up two or three times a night to go to the bathroom and they are not used to having no lights. I walked by the hall and there was a woman crying out for me to bring her a flashlight and then she didn’t know how to turn it on and operate it,” she says.

Hart shares her sister’s concerns.

“It was not a good situation. They didn’t have an emergency plan in action. I called mom and asked if the power was out and she said yes. I asked what she was doing and she said she was in bed all covered up. Mom is (usually) up all day,” says Hart.

Hart called and expressed her concern to the staff who, she says, told her the only heat was the common room near the propane fireplace. Residents were told if they did not want to stay in the common room they could go back to bed.

“I asked if they realized that (the power outage) could go on for a couple days. I said the situation has to be addressed somehow because these poor people can’t all stay there in sub-zero temperatures with zero heat.”

Hart says she understands that the kitchen was run by a little generator, allowing residents to have hot meals for lunch and dinner.

“Mom pays $2,500 a month and mom is paying on her own. We are not subsidized at all. I told mom for the amount she is paying they should give her a generator for her own room,” Hart told The Packet.

Similar stories of ill-prepared seniors home have been made public across the province in the wake of the weekend power outage.

Both sisters are hoping that public awareness will lead to improved regulations to prevent similar circumstances happening in the future.

“It was pretty scary to know. I felt they should have called the families and let them know the situation and ask family members if they would like to come over with blankets and lights,” says Hart.


Changes coming

The manager of the Clarenville Retirement Center agrees Saturday was a challenging situation and says the facility will take steps to install a better backup system.

Daphne Powell told The Packet on Tuesday the home meets regulations as prescribed by the province, and enforced by Eastern Health.

“I have a binder a foot-and-half long (and) … you have to meet every standard. You are reviewed every three months and there is a big review in January.

“If you don’t meet these standards, the owner won’t get his license renewed. We meet the standards, that’s not a problem.”

However, given the situation from the weekend, she says the facility has already made arrangements to have a generator installed as soon as possible to contend with any similar situations in the future, even though government regulations don’t require it.

“People learn from these things. It’s sad to say, but sometimes things have to happen before you change them. I would like to see government make a policy (but) we are not waiting for that. I’ve already been to Southwest Energy here in Clarenville looking for the proper system to service this home. That guy is so busy up there he can’t do anything until March,” she says.

According to Powell, she’s been told generators are in short supply right across Canada because of the extreme cold.

It may be a few weeks before a generator is available.

Meanwhile, Clarenville Retirement Center has engaged a contractor to carry out some advance work in preparation for the generation.

Powell says on Saturday she was in constant contact with the owners by telephone stressing the urgency of situation.

She added that earlier in the day, the sun was shining through the windows and with the propane fireplace going; it was comfortable in the common area.

The problem arose when the sun went down.

“As the sun went down, the dining room started to cool off and the building started to cool off. So that’s when it really got into being a stressful event,” she says.

Until the power came back on, staff continually monitored residents, says Powell.

“Our attendees were constantly walking the corridors to help residents get to the bathroom. We didn’t want someone to get out without a flashlight and trip and fall,” she said.

Powell says the Canadian Red Cross delivered extra blankets at around 9 p.m.

Powell worked at the Center for six years and she says those years the power has never been off longer than three or four hours.

She adds family members did express concerns through the day on Saturday and she passed those concerns along to the owners.

“People want the best for their parent or grandparent; nobody can penalize you for that,” she said.

She added families were understanding and supportive.

“The families were good to us, checking in to visit and dropping things off. The fire chief was in two or three times. We couldn’t ask for more support,” she says.

While the power outage did cause some trying times many, Powell predicts facilities like this one will be better prepared next time.

“I’m so happy that we are doing something about this and I’ve got a feeling that a lot of homes are going to do something about this. “

For the the Minister of Health and Community Services' response to the story, CLICK HERE.

Organizations: The Packet, Clarenville Retirement Center, Port Union Canadian Red Cross

Geographic location: Clarenville, Bonavista, Southwest Energy Canada

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