The poor handling of William Mullins's death suggests a health-care system under siege.
William Mullins didn't have an easy life.
He was born 60 years ago with cerebral palsy and some moderate mental challenges, a somewhat lower-than-normal IQ.
As he grew older and his behaviour became more erratic, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Later still, he developed diabetes and heart problems.
For a time, to his family's despair, he lived on the streets, unwilling or unable to take care of himself.
At times, though, he was able to hold a job as a parking lot attendant.
Although he wasn't yet a senior citizen, he spent his last years in the comfort of an Edmonton care centre, where people remember him fondly as a friendly man who liked music and fresh air, who always preferred to sleep with his windows open, who liked to greet people he knew with a big "Hello." His sisters say his favourite song was Don't Worry, Be Happy.
Yet this isn't a story about the difficult circumstances of Bill Mullins' life -but about the indignity of his death.
On Feb. 11, staff at the nursing home where Mullins lived were concerned enough about his failing health that they called an ambulance.
Mullins was taken to the University of Alberta Hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit. He died the next day.
Nobody from the hospital notified the nursing home. Nobody notified the Office of the Public Guardian or the Public Trustee, who together had control of Mullins's personal and legal affairs. And nobody notified Mullins's two sisters, his next of kin, neither of whom live in Edmonton. For 11 days, his body lay unclaimed in the hospital morgue -lost, like some missing piece of luggage, in a morass of medical bureaucracy.
By the time his sister Heather was finally told what had happened, by the time she arrived in Edmonton to identify her brother's body, his corpse had begun to decompose.
It's a nightmare no family should have to contemplate.
What went wrong? How did poor Bill Mullins get so lost in the system?
The vulnerable man, with his complex medical and psychiatric disabilities, was, legally speaking, a dependent adult, an official ward of the province's Office of the Public Guardian. He'd been in and out of hospital often; even if he couldn't communicate clearly by the time the ambulance got him to hospital, his legal status and contact information for the guardian's office should have been part of his medical file. When he died, the appropriate protocol would have been for the hospital to notify the guardian's office, and for the public guardian, in turn, to notify the next of kin.
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A Man Died, and for 11 Days, His Family Wasn't Notified