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Ban of mother from visiting son in Victoria hospital was unfair says lawyer

Jun 12 2012

The process by which the Vancouver Island Health Authority restricted a British mom from seeing her brain-injured son in hospital is unfair, according to a Vancouver civil rights lawyer.

Shirley Spence, 73, was banned from Victoria General Hospital for more than two weeks May 17 after she says she leaned over the bedside of her son, Gary Abbott, 52, and tapped a nurse on the head with her forefinger to get her attention. Her goal was to shush the nurse.

The nurse complained and Spence, who had flown from South Africa to care for her son after he suffered a brain hemorrhage on April 24, was banned. The hospital has a zero-tolerance policy for "violence" against staff.

Ordering the mother out of the hospital at the time of the incident to preserve patient and public security was reasonable, said David Eby, executive director B.C. Civil Liberties Association, lawyer and adjunct University of B.C. law professor.

"But when everyone has a chance to catch their breath and they are doing this review hearing process, there's no excuse for not hearing from this couple and giving them a chance to participate because the consequences are so serious," Eby said.

The day after the incident, Spence and her longtime partner Andrew Regan met at the hospital with the nurse manager. Spence was told she was banned until three days later, when a risk-assessment meeting would be held. The offer of a witness statement by Regan - the only other person in the room at the time of the incident - was declined.

Spence and Regan were not invited to the risk-assessment meeting, attended by the nurse manager who originally banned Spence, a VIHA occupational health and safety advisor and three B.C. Nurses' Union members - the nurse, the union steward and the clinical nurse leader.

Eby said hospitals need to provide a chance for someone to explain themselves and demonstrate that they understand the rules "to ensure security but also to ensure fairness."

Lesley Moss, executive director of occupational health and safety for VIHA, said last week that the most critical consideration in assessing risk is the health-care worker's perception of the incident.

Since June 1, Spence must be accompanied by a security guard if she wants to see her son on the ward. She has opted to visit with her son outside instead. "What a waste of everyone's money," Spence said. His family hopes Abbott, a painter and former personal trainer, will be moved to the hospital's rehabilitation wing later this week.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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