Quebec health minister says emergency room death of 86-year-old woman ‘disturbing’

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The family of an 86-year-old woman who died in an emergency room last week near Quebec City says it’s not normal that she was allegedly left to die in a hallway without food or water.

Gilberte Gosselin was admitted to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Lévis, Que., for a hip fracture on Feb. 21, her granddaughter, Véronique Labonté, said in an interview Thursday.

Labonté, who along with her mother, Sylvie Berthiaume, was at her grandmother’s bedside, said Quebec’s health system is “broken” and patients are paying the price.

“I want things to change. I want them to confirm that what happened to my grandmother was not normal. That it should not have happened and that it will never happen again,” Labonté said.

Berthiaume was traumatized after she was left alone with her deceased mother for an hour following her death, Labonté said.

After undergoing tests at the hospital on Feb. 21, Gosselin was told she needed surgery. The following day, her condition had deteriorated to the point where surgery was no longer an option, Labonté said.

A second doctor, she said, requested Gosselin be transferred to a room and administered end-of-life care. But Gosselin was never transferred, Labonté said.

Instead, Gosselin stayed in the hallway of the emergency room, where she died Thursday morning. Her family says she spent 48 hours in the emergency department without food or water.

Labonté said the family requested food for her grandmother but were told she deteriorated so much that she couldn’t eat.

“By Wednesday morning, she was starting to be dehydrated, and we asked for water, which was refused because at that time she had difficulty swallowing and breathing. Then the staff was afraid that she would choke if we gave her anything so we could not give her water and obviously no food.

“That evening they finally allowed us to spoonfeed her applesauce.”

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé called the details surrounding Gosselin’s death “disturbing” and “unacceptable.”

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Dubé said the minister requested an explanation about what happened to Gosselin from the regional health authority that oversees the hospital near Quebec City.

A coroner has been assigned to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death, and the local health authority said the risk-management department and the complaints commissioner will also investigate.

“We will follow the coroner’s inquest closely,” Dubé spokesperson Antoine de la Durantaye said. “We have also asked the (local health authority) for explanations, and we will ensure that a complete analysis is carried out.”

The regional health authority called the situation “unfortunate” and said the hospital experienced “significant overcrowding,” both in the emergency room and in the care units during the period that Gosselin was hospitalized.

“We had some really sick patients, with 30 to 40 people in the emergency room waiting to be taken up to the care units, and a total of 48 to 68 patients on stretchers during that period,” Mireille Gaudreau, a spokesperson for the regional health authority, said in an email.

“We even opened our emergency overflow beds to accommodate the demand. In the rest of the hospital, all other beds were also full.”

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