After spending six months on a prosthetic leg that has reached the end of its reliably functional life, Bonnie Dalziel is fed up.
“It’s been a very, very trying winter,” the 79-year-old told the Star Wednesday.
The artist, great-grandmother, born-and-raised Yukoner found out last October from her doctor at the Queen Alexandra prosthetics clinic in Victoria that her leg was in need of replacement after nine years of use.
“She said, ‘Bonn, this is at its end, it’s really going to collapse on you, there will be no notice, and you’ve got to get Yukon health to do another one,’ ” Dalziel recalled.
At home, she contacted her local doctor, who put together and pitched the Health department on Dalziel’s case for a new prosthesis last December.
Her doctor thought approval would be “just a matter of course,” Dalziel said.
“We waited, and we waited, and I thought maybe three weeks, we should hear something.”
Four months later, without having received any feedback on the status of her request, her doctor’s warning came to sudden fruition.
Last week, “I was in my bedroom, just standing still. Looking at my closet, wondering what I should wear. And I collapsed, and I just found myself on the floor,” Dalziel said.
Her leg had given out, and Dalziel landed on her wrist, which she thought at the time she had broken.
The “intense pain” and lack of mobility kept her on the floor for three hours.
The crisis prompted Dalziel to contact her friend Kate White, who is also the NDP’s Health and Social Services critic.
White had written Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost in March to inquire about the status of Dalziel’s prosthesis request, and emphasize that her leg “was at risk of catastrophic failure” and could “break at any time.”
“I believe that you share my belief that our health care system is more effective when we focus on those things that prevent potential health crises than it is to wait and respond after the fact.”
White received a response to that letter Tuesday, which she shared with Dalziel.
In it, Frost acknowledged that there had been a delay in providing a response to Dalziel’s request.
At the time it was received, the Department of Health and Social Services was in the midst of hiring a medical equipment and supplies advisor. That person reviews all requests for equipment and supplies coverage.
“We apologize for the delayed response and would like to assure you that we are aware of the importance of timely responses to minimize any impact on the quality of life for Yukon residents.”
She added that a letter dated March 9 had been sent to Dalziel’s family physician, advising of the decision on her request.
As of this morning, Dalziel has not been able to find that letter, and has been given no news from her doctor.
She checked with her medical clinic Thursday morning, and staff had no record of any letter received on her file, she said.
White raised the issue in the legislature’s question period Wednesday.
“Sadly, this is just one example of processes within the department that just don’t make any sense,” she told the house.
“The fact that it took nearly four months for the department to communicate that no decision had been made — or no decision that this individual has been able to track down — is acceptable because of a vacancy.”
“How will this government rectify this situation and ensure timely responses and communications with individuals applying for medical equipment or supplies?”
Frost said the government wants to ensure “that every Yukoner is given adequate and appropriate health care coverage and supports,” and that perhaps structural improvement is necessary.
“That is what we aim to do. We aim to ensure that we change processes and policies so that we don’t end up in situations where essential services are delayed as a result of structural processes that have been there for many years.”
“I really want to assure the member opposite that I will ensure that the individual is given the support that they require and that we follow through in a timely fashion.”
In a subsequent interview with the Star, White spoke of her own mounting frustration over the situation.
“This is just a glaring mistake,” she said, of the department’s handling of Dalziel’s request.
“My biggest concern is that if she’s been waiting for four months, and I only know about her. How many other people got lost in that ‘we’ve been hiring a new person’ dialogue?
“In my experience, what I’ve learnt is that people who require this kind of medical help, that if they’re not able to advocate for themselves, they will literally just fade into the background.”
Departmental spokesperson Clarissa Wall clarified in a Thursday morning email that there are no vacancies within the Insured Health Services Branch – they were creating and staffing a new position.
“We have found that the medical equipment requested by Yukon seniors through the Extended Health Care Benefits program is becoming more complex.”
“As a result of the increased complexity of the requests, the department needed to acquire the expertise of a clinician to review and assess requests for medical equipment.”
Unlike what was said in Frost’s letter to White, this additional position will only review complex or specialty requests, not all requests.
“Securing this expert did take time and some short delays were experienced, we accept that such delays are unacceptable under any circumstance and can assure Yukoners that protocols have been put in place to ensure oversight.”
Typically, Wall said, the turnaround on a prosthetic limb replacement request falls in the range of 48 hours to one week, depending in the complexity.
The department is unable to comment on the specific of Dalziel’s case, nor whether any other individuals were impacted during the period of time in which the clinical position was being staffed.
For Dalziel, every day that passes without clarity as to whether the government will fund her replacement prosthesis is another day of frustration.
“I read a 5,509-page book last night; I didn’t sleep a wink. And I don’t know how much I can put up with this.
“Because my mobility is really restricted now, it’s just not good for my health at all, and I’m afraid I’m just going backwards.”
Dalziel has had to shrink her typically-active lifestyle to avoid putting herself in situations where a collapse could mean serious injury.
“I have to envision me falling in a situation where it’s not as comfortable as your rug.”
She scoffs at the suggestion of a wheelchair – “I’m all for being independent for as long as you possibly can. It’s better for everybody, not just you, yourself, but for society.”
While initially hesitant to speak about her situation publicly, Dalziel said she decided to do so in the hopes of inspiring other people in similar situations to use their voices and stand up for themselves.
“It’s sometimes very, very valuable to have someone who is suffering quietly suddenly pick up the paper and say, “oh my gosh, she’s bold, nobody shut her up, she said something, boy I sure hope they listen to her.’ You can make shifts in society, by this.”