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Brig Bay senior couple hoping to be reunited

Wallace Cunard, 76, holds two pictures of his wife, Rita, 71. The two have been married for 54 years but since last year, they’ve been unable to live together.
Wallace Cunard, 76, holds two pictures of his wife, Rita, 71. The two have been married for 54 years but since last year, they’ve been unable to live together. - Stephen Roberts

Wallace and Rita Cunard have been living apart since she took ill in 2017

ST. ANTHONY, N.L.

Wallace and Rita Cunard of Brig Bay have been married for 54 years, but for the past year they’ve been kept apart.

And a family member is blaming government policy for it.

Wallace, 76, currently lives at the Shirley’s Haven in St. Anthony; while his wife Rita, 71, lives 300 metres away at the John M. Gray Centre and Complex.

They have been living apart ever since Rita became seriously ill over a year ago.

In January 2017, Rita was airlifted to St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s. According to Wallace, her kidneys and liver had shut down.

She was able to make a partial recovery and was returned to the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony in May 2017.

In order to be closer to his wife, Wallace moved into Shirley’s Haven the following month.

Rita would remain at the hospital until February 2018, when she was placed in the John M. Gray Centre in St. Anthony, a long-term continuing care facility that provides level three and four nursing care.

Wallace is on a waitlist to get into the John M. Gray Centre. His brother, Terry, says he qualifies for level three and four nursing care due to issues with his bowels and mobility.

Rita requires dialysis every second day. During the week she receives treatment on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Confined to a wheelchair, she is in no condition to leave the John M. Gray Centre.

Meanwhile, Wallace gets a chance to visit her twice a week — Tuesday’s and Thursday’s.

He can’t get there himself, so he requires the assistance of the Shirley’s Haven staff, which he is appreciative of. Wallace says the maintenance man will drive him down to see his wife.

“They takes me down there, they’re good to me here,” he told The Northern Pen. “It’s very nice of them.”

Most days, Wallace will spend the whole afternoon with Rita before having to return.

But it’s no substitute for spending the rest of their lives together.

“I’d like to be down there with her, I’d like to be with my wife,” he said. “We haven’t got too many more years left.”

Meanwhile, his brother, Terry, is questioning why the couple can’t be together.

Terry wrote a letter to The Northern Pen expressing his concern.

“Why are they not together? Who made the policy that keeps them apart? After being together all of their lives, now they are being kept apart by government policies?” he asked. “Rita is too sick to go anywhere else, but Wallace is not sick enough to get a bed in this facility. Who gave someone the right to do this?”

See Terry Cunard's letter to the editor hereSo close and yet so far apart

The regional health authority, Labrador-Grenfell Health (LGH), released a statement to The Northern Pen indicating that under the Personal Health Information Act, it cannot publicly discuss specifics related to individual patient cases.

The health authority did explain that its long-term care admissions policies are based on provincial standards and assessments are done based on eligibility criteria.

This is “to ensure clients receive the appropriate services in the right place and at the right time to meet their care needs.”

As for wait lists, LGH monitors the wait list for long-term care service to ensure individuals who are clinically assessed to require this level of service are prioritized for placement.

“For those individuals who require lower care needs, we partner with the individual and/or family to ensure that their needs are met in the appropriate care setting,” the statement continued. “This may mean a wait time before couples can be reunited due to eligibility criteria.

“LGH understands that being separated can be difficult and take concerns of our patients, clients and residents seriously. LGH is committed to use all available resources to ensure the best quality care possible for residents and families.”

The Northern Pen also contacted the Department of Health and Community Services but did not receive a response prior to deadline.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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