Alberta man treats own dying father in hospital amid healthcare staffing shortages

An Alberta man had no choice but to stay at his dying father’s side, performing basic medical procedures for him as the healthcare system in the province continues to deteriorate.

Jeff McLenaghan was caring for his father, Doug, at High River General Hospital, south of Calgary, in emergency care, because there weren’t any beds available.

This situation highlights healthcare staffing shortages across the province that have lead to dire circumstances for several Albertans like McLenaghan.

His father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer about seven years ago, the disease also spread to his brain and throughout his body.

“He has these bouts of very viscous mucus that comes up as a result of the esophageal cancer. It requires me to suction him out at home so it doesn’t compromise his airway or just so he can breath, and just get it cleared, because he’s unable to clear it on his own,” McLenaghan said.

McLenaghan says things quickly got worse, and it got to the point where he was calling 911 regularly so EMS could help his father breathe.

“There’s times where we couldn’t even get an ambulance. The nearest one to High River was Calgary,” McLenaghan said. “We had the fire department come and help us.”

“Trying to get an ambulance to assist him, in retrospect, has been a nightmare.”

McLenaghan says his father was brought to the hospital in High River by ambulance at around 2 a.m. Sunday, July 31.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about the nurses, they’re doing what they can. But there’s times where he’s alone,” McLenaghan said.

He adds his father regularly chokes and mucus often gets into his lungs.

“There was a miscommunication with the dietitian here, and they brought him solid food. He tried to eat it and he aspirated on that,” McLenaghan said. “It took him about a day just to cough all that up.”

“The problem really is that we’re here for three days, and there’s no bed available, and there’s no one to watch him, there’s no one to be there. The emergency department is swamped, there’s people in here tonight that have come in with cardiac arrest, and I’m by myself.”

McLenaghan had to hold his dad up with one arm and use medical equipment to clear his airway to make sure he could breathe. He said he was beyond exhausted trying to keep up after days at the hospital.

“I can’t even remember, the days seem just to flow together now… I don’t know what I’m going to do, I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

McLenaghan says it was especially difficult because he needed to see a doctor for his own health. Going back and forth from the emergency department to care for his dad, to his own specialist appointments was overwhelming.

The staff at the hospital told McLenaghan that they’re overworked, understaffed, and the state of the healthcare system is to blame.

“You can hear it in the nurses voices,” he explained. He adds doctors and nurses can only do so much under the circumstances.


“That’s why I stay here, because they can only do what they can do, and they’re not unkind by any stretch, it’s not a slam on them,” McLenaghan said. “I’ve been anywhere in the US and Canada, and they are stellar nurses in this hospital in High River, they are fantastic.”

McLenaghan added he’s drained, and there wasn’t anyone else that could help look after his father. He says his dad should’ve been in a hospice, but he couldn’t get on a waiting list, let alone get a hospital bed for him.

“I pictured my father leaving this world a different way than this.”

With files from Pete Curtis

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