Winnipegger shocked by sudden decision to transfer elderly mother to hospital hundreds of kilometres away

The family of a 94-year-old woman wants an explanation after she was transferred to a hospital hours away, with little advance notice.

Judy Tomlinson says her mother, Jeanne Mymryk, was transferred from St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg to a hospital in the western Manitoba town of Hamiota last Friday.

“She’s 94 years old and she’s being whisked 300 kilometres away from her family and support,” said Tomlinson.

Mymryk was at St. Boniface while recovering from a heart attack and urinary tract infection.

When a family member visited Mymryk at St. Boniface last Thursday, hospital staff asked him to sign a document stating that if a bed was needed, they could transfer the 94-year-old to another facility.

The family member was told he was able to sign because he’s a relative but Tomlinson, who is her mother’s primary caregiver and has power of attorney, says she was not consulted.

The next day, Tomlinson got a call telling her that transport services were at St. Boniface Hospital ready to take her mom to Hamiota.

“I had no chance to absorb this information. I called the hospital back three times to get more information and asked, ‘Can I come down and see my mom?'” said Tomlinson.

She was told her mother was already packed and ready to go. When asked why she wasn’t called earlier, she wasn’t given an explanation.

Shared Health said stable patients can be transferred to other hospitals, including those in other health regions, to “maximize bed capacity to allow for ongoing non-COVID care — such as non-urgent and elective surgeries.”

Those transfers are “based on clinical team judgment and do not require consent,” a Shared Health spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

All patients admitted to hospital (or their families or caregivers) are given a letter informing them of these transfer protocols, which were implemented in October, the spokesperson said.

Freezing rain made transfer dangerous

But Tomlinson said her concern wasn’t just about the lack of communication from hospital staff.

The road conditions the night her mother was transferred were treacherous due to freezing rain.

Tomlinson spoke to her mom — who was crying inconsolably — shortly before transport services left St. Boniface at 4:30 p.m.

She didn’t receive an update until 11:15 p.m. that night, and was told her mother had arrived at the Hamiota Health Centre just 15 minutes before.

Shared Health says that in bad weather, paramedics generally delay low-acuity inter-facility transfers that are deemed safe to wait until the weather improves, and that this particular transfer took four hours and 40 minutes.

Staff at the Hamiota Health Centre told Tomlinson that transport services were driving no more than 20 kilometres an hour due to the road conditions.

“This transfer, which was non-essential, put too many lives in danger — including my mom,” Tomlinson said in an email sent to CBC.

The email was sent to several people, including Health Minister Audrey Gordon, Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew and patient relations at St. Boniface hospital.

‘We should all be ashamed’

Kinew raised his own concerns about the transfer of patients in Wednesday’s question period.

“We should all be ashamed. This is not how we should be treating seniors,” said Kinew.

He accused the Progressive Conservative government of “moving seniors around the province like pieces on a chessboard.”

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said that these decisions are made by clinicians, not politicians.

“My understanding in speaking with Shared Health is they are using an acute care protocol in terms of their transfers that has existed for many, many years,” said Gordon.

She said the acute care protocol provides patients with safe, quality care.

Manitoba Health Minister Audrety Gordon says decisions on transfers are made by clinicians, not politicians. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

But Tomlinson feels the issue does fall on the shoulders of politicians — and hospital administrators.

In the email sent to CBC, she commended the care provided to her mother by nurses and doctors at the Hamiota Health Centre.

“They are wonderful, they’re giving my mom excellent care. But they don’t understand why this was necessary,” said Tomlinson, noting there are other patients in Hamiota who are seniors from Winnipeg.

Her family went to visit as soon as they could the following day — a round trip of more than six hours.

“Our senior citizens rely on family and friends for support and to be their advocate. And with them being so far away from their support systems, they feel lost and alone,” she said.

As of Wednesday, her mother was well enough to return home to Winnipeg once home care has been arranged. 

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