Dementia Patient Left Outside in Freezing Cold After Hospital Sent Him to Wrong Address

A neighbor is being credited with saving an elderly Alberta man’s life after the man was sent home to the wrong address from the hospital and left outside in freezing temperatures.

Sometimes patients are sent home from the hospital in a taxi if they can’t get a ride from family, but it can make for a dangerous situation when there’s a mixup regarding the location the patient is supposed to be taken. This is especially problematic for patients with dementia who may not remember where they’re supposed to be transported or know how to get help when they need it.

“It is not unusual to use different transportation options, including taxis or non-ambulance transfer vehicles when available, to support patients in returning to their residence when they are discharged from hospital if family is unable to assist them,” Alberta Health Services said in a statement to Global News. “Such transportation options are always discussed with the patient or their decision-maker prior to transportation occurring. This happened in this case.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/deberarr

78-year-old John “Mike” Palmer was released from the hospital on a cold December day, and none of his family members were immediately able to go and get him. The hospital arranged for Eagle Taxi to bring him to Wetaskiwin’s Sagebrush seniors’ supportive care home, where his wife would be waiting for him. But he never showed up.

“They called my mom past noon — the doctor said she might be releasing him,” Mike’s daughter, Tami Hogarth, says. “She waited and waited. She was worried because it was taking so long.”

The drive from the Wetaskiwin Hospital to Sagebrush is only about five minutes long, so Mike’s wife had good cause to worry when he didn’t show up for hours.

Photo: Adobe Stock/CameraCraft

Somehow, the taxi driver got Mike’s former address instead of his current one and dropped him off in a robe and slippers outside his old home. Nobody was at the residence at the time of his arrival, but a neighbor saw him get out and walk up to the house.

“Which I thought was a bit odd,” recalls the neighbor, Jake Driedger. “But there was a taxi there, so I’m thinking, well, somebody is here looking after Mike coming into his house.”

Half an hour later, Jake says he heard a strange noise while he was working in his heated garage. Thinking someone was trying to break into his house, he went to look and saw Mike standing outside.

Photo: Adobe Stock/karamysh

“30 to 40 minutes in minus 20-something weather with the wind, dressed the way he was in hospital — pajamas and slippers,” says Jake. “He was clearly very agitated, and he was very cold, and he was in a lot of distress.”

Mike got in touch with the family, and another cab was dispatched to pick Mike up and take him to his care home.

“It took them about 15 minutes in a hot shower to warm him,” Tami recalls. “The next day, he had blisters around his lips and on his ears. The whole thing has been so overwhelming and upsetting for my family on so many levels. It’s hard enough to watch somebody you love degrade slowly, every day.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/dikushin

Mike’s family is very grateful to Jake for helping his former neighbor in a time of great need. “In my eyes, he’s a hero. If it wasn’t for him, this would have been a completely different story,” says Tami.

A spokesperson for Eagle Taxi said that the cab service had several pickups from the hospital that day, and the driver was not made aware of Mike’s cognitive condition or the hospital’s directions. It’s likely that the driver simply asked Mike where home was, and Mike gave his old address, the only one he could remember and possibly the location where he thought he still lived.

Alberta Health Services says, “Despite the patient’s address being provided at the time of transport, there was a communication mixup between the taxi driver and the patient that resulted in the patient being delivered to a different location.”

AHS is working to address the family’s concerns and keep things like this from happening to other patients, especially those with memory loss issues.

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