Woman ‘held against her will’ at Penticton extended care unit

For two-and-half years Nancy Varcoe was wrongly kept against her will at Westview Place extended care unit.

David Varcoe in front of the Westview Place south residence building where his wife Nancy spent 30 months after being involuntarily admitted under the Mental Health Act. Interior Health

David Varcoe in front of the Westview Place south residence building where his wife Nancy spent 30 months after being involuntarily admitted under the Mental Health Act. Interior Health



In sickness and in health.

For two-and-half years David Varcoe was unable to fulfill that promise of caring to his ill wife Nancy, who was wrongly kept against her will at Westview Place extended care unit.

David blamed what he described as a series of bureaucratic and medical blunders on the part of Interior Health Authority (IH) which operates the facility, for causing a complete upheaval in every facet of the couple’s lives.

“What transpired was a calamity of errors, my wife was in the hospital under the Mental Health Act, but should have been released after the second month when they didn’t do a review,” said Varcoe, 72, who is currently struggling with medical and mobility issues of his own. “If they didn’t do a review then, she was entitled to go home. Well, they didn’t do a review and they didn’t review it until 30 months into her stay at the hospital.”

When that assessment was eventually done, his wife was finally allowed to leave, although, according to David, a psychiatrist involved wanted to her re-admitted which he appealed and won.

Nancy was at Westview, which is located next door to the Penticton Regional Hospital, between March 2011 and May 2013.

She was admitted involuntarily after Interior Health officials became concerned about her in-home care relating to a previous illness she had been treated for at the hospital

“It’s a hell of a long time and I lost a considerable amount of love and time with my wife at home that I can’t recover, that time is gone,” said David. “I could never turn my back on her or shove her out the door, I married her, I have a commitment to her until death do us part and I’m going to honour that part of our marriage.

“It’s hard to live with. I had an awful time being in our house alone for those 30 months not knowing if my wife was going to get out. She got ill, it wasn’t her fault, it’s just God’s way of saying slow down.”

What added to the problem and pushed him even further out of the picture according to David was the document his wife supposedly signed rescinding the power of attorney, assigned to him.

Subsequently her affairs, financial and otherwise, were turned over to the Public Guardian and Trustee.

David believes that signature was forged by a staff member.

Since that time the Varcoes have received a letter of apology from Interior Health, the Public Guardian’s office and earlier this month, the results of an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsperson where David turned as a last resort in September 2012.

In that document, Ombudsperson officer Rachel Warren wrote, in part: “…the health authority detained her (Nancy Varcoe) in residential care and charged the corresponding residential fees for over two years without having the proper legal authority to do so.

“Furthermore, it was evident that health authority staff had facilitated the revocation of Ms. Varcoe’s Power of Attorney without providing her with access to legal counsel resulting in the PGT’s (Public Guardian Trustee) involvement in managing her legal and financial affairs.”

It went on to state Interior Health “may have inaccurately represented their role with respect to Ms. Varcoe’s placement in residential care and their authority to detain her.”

In it’s conclusion, the investigating team found the actions by Interior Health resulted in “significant loss of liberty and financial hardship” to the couple.

After consultation with IH, the ombudsperson made several recommendations including a formal apology and return of residential care fees, developing guidelines and training staff on the health authority’s roles and responsibilities under the Adult Guardianship Act and enhancing policies and addressing the issue of staff witnessing and responding to legal documents.

Since being released from Westview, Nancy, now 60, became ill again and is currently fighting for her life in the intensive care unit of PRH where her husband visits her twice a day when he is able.

According Karen Bloemink, IH executive director residential services/alternate level of care, who wrote the letter of apology to the Varcoes, steps are being taken to avoid similar problems in the future.

“It’s unfortunate in this situation it had to come to a third party like the Ombudsperson in order for us to recognize the errors that had been made here,” said Bloemink. “The staff acted and the care team acted in what they felt were in the best interests of the client and they unfortunately did miss some key steps along the way.”

Varcoe however called the apology letter “two faced” saying at the same time IH is still trying take back money they say they are owed and the matter has still not been resolved.

About the allegation of the forged document, Bloemink said there was no evidence that was the case but there are ongoing discussions about the matter. Bloemink added because she feels staff were acting in the best interests of Nancy, “disciplinary action would not be appropriate but rather education and support.”

Although she could not speak on the specific case of the Varcoes, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said what happened is not an isolated incident especially among members of the older population. She was aware of cases where people were sectioned against their will.

“At the end of the day as a society you can take a lot of things from people, but when you take their liberty that’s the dividing line around civilized societies and free societies,” said Mackenzie, who will be hosting a town hall meeting, on April 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Shatford Centre.

For his part, David Varcoe now has one goal in mind.

“I’m really adamant about educating people how to deal with their rights, I’m not interested in recovering (financially) as much as I am in teaching,” he said. “This is a terrible thing to go through.

“If the ones following us can learn from this, then I’ve accomplished something.”

About the allegation of the forged document, Bloemink said there was no evidence that was the case but there are ongoing discussions about the matter. Bloemink added because she feels staff were acting in the best interests of Nancy, “disciplinary action would not be appropriate but rather education and support.”

Although she could not speak on the specific case of the Varcoes, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said what happened is not an isolated incident especially among members of the older population. She was aware of cases where people were sectioned against their will.

“At the end of the day as a society you can take a lot of things from people, but when you take their liberty that’s the dividing line around civilized societies and free societies,” said Mackenzie, who will be hosting a town hall meeting, on April 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Shatford Centre.

For his part, David Varcoe now has one goal in mind.

“I’m really adamant about educating people how to deal with their rights, I’m not interested in recovering (financially) as much as I am in teaching,” he said. “This is a terrible thing to go through.

“If the ones following us can learn from this, then I’ve accomplished something.”