A Toronto woman whose father died in Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre three weeks ago says the hospital failed to show compassion as he was dying, because it seemed more interested in enforcing rules around hospital visits than it was in making sure he was comfortable.
Lisa Feingold said her father Solomon Feingold, 73, wasn’t able to die with dignity. He died on July 29 at about 8:30 p.m. Her mother, Roberta Feingold, was with him at the time of his death, but hospital rules prohibited a second person from being at his bedside. Neither of his two daughters were there. Lisa’s sister was living in the U.S. at the time.
“It stays with me that I wasn’t able to be there at the end,” Feingold told CBC Toronto on Tuesday. “There’s no closure, I guess. It feels like he kind of disappeared out of my life.”
According to Feingold, the hospital would not allow her and her mother to visit him at the same time in his last days, because of visitor restrictions due to COVID-19. At the end of July, the hospital allowed only one person at the patient’s bedside at a time.
At one point, a hospital social worker policed their visits to ensure the rules were being followed, saying if one visited for a time, that person couldn’t come back later after the other person had visited, Feingold said. She and her mother were also not allowed to stay overnight the night before he died.
Feingold said the experience around his death, in which the hospital enforced its one-visitor policy, has left the family deeply traumatized and feeling robbed of precious time with him.
“It was hard enough to be losing a parent but then continually to be made to feel that you are some kind of criminal for just wanting to be with them and wanting to make sure they were comfortable, it was such an added stress and frustration. It made the whole experience so much more traumatic.”
She said she feels like she wasn’t able to say goodbye. She now feels guilty every day that she wasn’t able to do more to make sure he had the comfort he deserved at the end of his life.
Feingold said her father was a kind and caring man.
“It’s hard because he did so much for me. He was an extraordinarily generous man. He would go to extreme lengths to make other people happy and it just breaks my heart that he didn’t get the same in his last days.”
Solomon Feingold was admitted to Sunnybrook on May 28 with a heart condition and pneumonia. He had been in hospital many times previously with heart problems. His heart stopped three times in the emergency room that day and he was revived three times, his daughter said.
He went into an intensive care unit for five weeks, then was moved to a “stepped down” intensive care unit, where Lisa Feingold said he did not receive the same level of care because the nurses seemed overworked and too busy to attend to his needs. He was often uncomfortable and at times distressed, agitated and dishevelled, she said.
The family had offered to hire a nurse to come into the hospital to help look after him, but Feingold said that request was denied.
Restricting access ‘outrageous,’ daughter says
Feingold saw him four times in hospital in all before he died. When she did visit, instead of focusing on the time she had with her father, she felt guilty that she was taking time away from her mother, who also wanted to visit.
She said if he had been in a palliative care unit when he died, he would have been allowed to have two visitors at a time. But, she said, the hospital was unable to move him to palliative care even though he was dying.
When Feingold had learned that he had only hours to live the day before he died, she said she rushed to the hospital. Her mother was already there and Feingold said she could not enter his room because the hospital would not let both of them in at the same time. She was able to spend a few hours with him that day. She said she and her mother felt that they had to divide visiting hours.
That night, her mother had to leave when visiting hours ended at 7 p.m.
“It just seemed outrageous when someone was dying that they would try to restrict access to family like that,” she said. “I said surely we should be able to stay overnight.”
The next day, she spent time with him again. Her mother was allowed to stay an hour and a half past visiting hours to be with him when he died.
Hospital apologizes for family’s experience
Craig DuHamel, vice-president of communications and stakeholder relations in the office of the patient experience for Sunnybrook, said in a statement on Tuesday that the hospital will provide greater access to visitors starting on Monday. He said it will ease restrictions for people visiting patients who are nearing the end of their lives.
“An increased number of family members will be permitted at the bedside and there will be 24-hour access. We are continuing to ensure physical distancing is maintained where possible and we require all staff and visitors to wear masks,” he said in the statement.
DuHamel apologized for the experience of the Feingold family.
“We are sorry the entire family was unable to visit at the bedside as a group to say goodbye to Mr. Feingold. At the time of this passing, Sunnybrook continued to have visitor restrictions in place that allowed one person at a time to be at the bedside of a patient,” he said.
“Each hospital is moving forward with easing restrictions at a pace that takes into consideration a number of factors including the institution’s local assessment of the risk of COVID transmission. At the end of July, our understanding of our risk level allowed one visitor. Other hospitals may have had different factors that contributed to their visitor policies,” he added.
“Once again, we are sorry the ease in restrictions was not in place at the time of Mr. Feingold’s passing, however the guidelines were consistent with what Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and in step with hospitals in the Toronto region.”
DuHamel said the new visitor policy will be monitored and modified as needed to ensure patient and staff safety.