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St. Anthony couple caught in a health care dilemma

Gail and Tom Stevens of St. Anthony fear Tom will have to quit his job to take care of Gail, because they can’t get affordable home care.
Gail and Tom Stevens of St. Anthony fear Tom will have to quit his job to take care of Gail, because they can’t get affordable home care. - Stephen Roberts

Husband may have to quit his job to take care of wife

ST. ANTHONY, N.L. —

Tom and Gail Stevens are in a tough spot.

The St. Anthony couple may be forced to make some hard decisions if they don’t get help soon.

Gail Stevens, 56, has diabetes. She’s had her left leg amputated and has to have dialysis three times a week. Recently, she had heart surgery.

She needs constant care.

Tom, who is 63, is the main caregiver right now. But he hopes to get back to work this summer as a heavy equipment operator; a job that involves him travelling to other locations around the province.

To go back to his job, he needs to find a homecare worker for his wife for the summer.

So far their search has been unsuccessful.

They’re scared because they have nowhere to turn.

Tom is worried he will have to quit his job and go on social assistance to stay at home to look after his wife.

Gail was diagnosed with diabetes 17 years ago. She started having serious complications in the summer of 2015, when a callous on the bottom of her foot started to turn to gangrene.

“My foot was black, I couldn’t put it to the floor,” she told The Northern Pen in an interview on April 15 from her hospital bed at St. Anthony.

The infection spread and she started to go septic. They had to amputate her left leg, just below the knee, to save her life.

Her ailments have since multiplied.

“No one knows what I went through, except for me and Tom and God Almighty,” she said.

Since this past September, Gail has had to have dialysis three days a week; her kidneys are only functioning at four percent.

In February she had to have heart surgery in St. John’s.

Due to various complications she has spent all but two days in hospital since January 13. She was slated for release on April 17.

Upon her return home, she has been approved for two hours of homecare a day, for six days a week, over the course of three weeks. That will be provided free.

After that, the couple are on their own.

Tom works seasonally as a heavy equipment operator. He sometimes moves around for his work and he’s expecting to have to work out of Charlottetown, Labrador this spring and summer; working on a two-week on; one week off rotation.

While he’s away, Gail will require home care, to help her bathe, get dressed, cook, clean and do laundry.

She also needs someone to drive her to the hospital for her dialysis treatments and for other hospital appointments.

They say they can’t afford the cost of private home care on Tom’s salary.

“What I’m making an hour, I wouldn’t be able to pay a homecare worker anyway,” he said. “If I did, I wouldn’t be able to bring anything home to pay my bills and take care of my wife.”

Tom doesn’t want to leave his job but can see no other choice but stay home and file for social assistance, if the Department of Health and Community Services cannot provide more help with the cost of home care.

“I thinks about it every day, every hour through the day; (are) they going to help me out and take care of my wife so I can go back to work?”

Tom has worked for his current employer for two years and says they have treated him like family.

He is determined to continue working, if possible.

“I want to work, I’ve worked all my life,” he said. “But I just can’t go away and go to work if I don’t have anybody to take care of my wife while I’m gone.”

Their only other sources of income are Tom’s unemployment insurance and the $316 a month Gail gets from the Canadian Pension Plan disability benefit.

A drug card covers only seven percent of the costs for her insulin.

They need round-the-clock daily care for Gail, 24/7, for the two weeks Tom is away. He says he can care for her every week of the rotation that he is home and, once the seasonal work finishes and he is home in the fall.

All they need is help to get through the summer.

“It’s not Tom who wants it, it’s me, I’m the one who’s sick,” Gail said.

If that option is not available, then Tom will have to stay home all year-round and be her sole caretaker.

Without him, she doesn’t know where she would be.

“If I never had Tom, I wouldn’t have nobody to do anything for me,” she said.

Gail has a sister in St. Anthony and says the family — including their children — help out when they can. However, she says, they have lives of their own as well and can’t be expected to provide constant care for Gail.

The situation has taken an emotional toll on the two of them.

Gail says she’s lost hours of sleep thinking about it.

“I’ve lost hours and hours of sleep due to the way I feels,” she said, her voice choking with emotion. “Night after night I’ve stayed awake, wondering how we’re going to survive.”

The couple has not contacted the Department of Health and Community Services or Labrador-Grenfell Health about their predicament.

Tom says he tried to speak with St. Barbe-L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore when the MHA was in St. Anthony last week for an announcement, but claims he was told by Mitchelmore to speak to his secretary.

The Northern Pen contacted the Department of Health and Community Services to see what options are available for the couple.

The department, in an emailed statement, said the Home Support Program provides an array of services to enable individuals who require assistance to remain in their own home and to prevent or delay the need for institutional placement.

It did specify the program is intended to supplement, not replace, service provided by the individual’s family and/or support network.

According to the statement, the regional health authority (LGH) provides a clinical and financial assessment to determine eligibility for services including identifying the individual’s needs, the types of supports required, and the cost of the services including any contribution required by the individual.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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