December 2, 2023

Healthcare Global

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Family blames Interior Health for ‘undignified’ death of loved one

When Paul O’Neill was nearing the end of his life, he decided to buy an RV to live in and come back to the Okanagan to be closer to his young son.

“He was living in Burnaby… and his child lived here in Kelowna,” said Tanya O’Neill, Paul’s sister.

Paul, 51, was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in his neck a couple of years ago, a terminal condition.

In recent weeks, his condition deteriorated and Paul died on Nov. 4.

His family said he was denied palliative care and suffered what they call an undignified death.

“My brother bled to death in my bedroom,”  an emotional Tanya O’Neill said. “I called 911. Dad is there on the floor, there’s blood everywhere, it looks like a homicide scene.”

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Paul’s distraught father told Global News that his son died in his arms.

“He came to my arms,  bleeding on me and I tried to hold him,” Jim O’Neill said, barely getting the words out as he was overcome with emotion.

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The family’s grief has been compounded by the traumatizing death, which they blame on Interior Health (IH).

Paul O’Neill was rushed to Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) one week prior to his death for a similar bleeding incident.

Tanya O’Neill said he begged for palliative or hospice care knowing the end was near, but, according to the family, he was denied.

“They said you don’t qualify for palliative care … they said, ‘Oh, you are still eating and drinking,’” Tanya O’Neill said.

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Up until September when he came back to the Okanagan, O’Neill had been living in Burnaby, falling under the Fraser Health Authority.

“He had his file transferred from Fraser Health to Interior Health,” Tanya O’Neill said.

“He figured he was OK, everything was going to be transferred over. Once he needed the system, the palliative care or hospice, everything was going to be in place … I don’t know what happened in the system.”

The heartbroken family is looking for answers, desperately wanting to know how and why the healthcare system failed their loved one.

“What is this, where are we, is this Canada?” said Tanya O’Neill.

Tanya O’Neill is an IHA employee.

She said she feels speaking out could cost her her job, but she stated her brother, and what her and her family are enduring, is far more important and needs to be shared with the public.

“I’m supposed to work in the health-care field and it’s like, how do I help anybody when I can’t even help my own,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

“I don’t even want to be in the field anymore because it’s just … if I can’t help my own family member, how can I help them or anybody else?”

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IH issued the following statement to Global News in response to the situation.

Interior Health offers our condolences to Mr. O’Neill’s family and friends for the loss of their loved one. Without getting into specific details, (we) can say that our team and Kelowna General Hospital did provide care to this patient based on his medical needs at the time. Our emergency department team assesses each patient individually to provide the appropriate care required at the hospital.

Each KGH patient has a formal discharge plan in place when they leave the hospital, including follow-up care and instructions to return to the emergency department if their condition changes. Where the patient is going and how they will get there are part of this planning. I can confirm that this process was followed in this case.

Currently, we are not aware of any files being unaccounted for in relation to the patient’s transfer from Fraser Health. We are continuing to review Mr. O’Neill’s case and are committed to talking to the family to do what we can to address their concerns during this difficult time.

“Our system, in plain language, sucks…it sucks,” said Jim O’Neill.

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