May 26, 2022

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Mount Pearl couple married 73 years separated by health-care system

The family of a couple separated by the health-care system after more than 70 years together is calling on the Newfoundland and Labrador government to reunite their parents for the remaining years of their lives.

John and Myrtle Legge are living in separate facilities because they require different levels of long-term care.

Their oldest son is asking the provincial government to adopt legislation that would keep couples together in long-term care, even if there’s a great difference in the level of care each needs.

“It’s not just my mom and dad. It’s the many moms and dads in the province that are waiting for this to happen.” Ron Legge told CBC News on Tuesday.

John, 94, and Myrtle, 93, have been married since 1949. John is from Heart’s Delight, Trinity Bay, and Myrtle is from Newtown, Bonavista Bay, and they met in Gander, where she worked in the hospital and he worked at the military base, said Ron. They spent most of their lives in Mount Pearl, where they raised a family of seven children. 

Ron Legge is the oldest of John and Myrtle Legge’s seven children. (John Pike/CBC)

For the last few years the Legges had lived together at the Meadow Creek Retirement Centre in Paradise, but that changed in January when there was an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility.

Both contracted the virus and John became so ill that he was hospitalized. Both have recovered but John remains at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s and Myrtle has returned to Meadow Creek, a private home subsidized by Eastern Health, where she receives Level 2 care.

John’s health has deteriorated and he now requires Level 3 care. He remains at the Health Sciences Centre, waiting for a bed at a long-term care facility that provides the care he needs, and the Legge family has no idea when he’ll be moved.

John Legge, originally from Heart’s Delight, is pictured as a young man, before he married Myrtle. (submitted Ron Legge)

“He’s on a ward not knowing if he is ever going to get out of there,” said Ron.

“I’ve seen him cry. I’ve seen him try to be strong when he can’t be and it just rips the heart right out of us to see what he’s going through. It must be just torture for my dad to be lying there wondering if he is ever going to see mom again.”

Their family fears the couple will never live together again because people who need different levels of care are placed in different facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, even if they’re married. It meant the couple couldn’t be together to celebrate their 73rd anniversary in February.

Ron Legge is calling on the province to change that.

Myrtle Legge is originally from Newtown, was in her early 40s when this photograph was taken. (Submitted Ron Legge)

“What I would really like to see is my dad placed in a long-term care facility, which is appropriate for what he needs right now, and for my mom to be able to move in there as well, and at least enjoy what years they have left together,” he said.

Legge says separation is taking a toll on both his parents.

“He’s missing her terribly. She’s missing him terribly. It’s resulted in him being very distraught. His physical state is beginning to deteriorate fast because of his mental state,” he said.

Seniors are dying alone. This particular family is worried about that … as many are.– Paul Dinn

About a year ago, Nova Scotia enacted legislation to ensure married couples remain together in long-term care, even if they require different levels of care.

The province’s Life Partners in Long-Term Care Act took effect March 1, 2021. Under the act, spouses, common-law, and domestic partners are to be placed together at the highest care level required. 

Opposition health-care critic calls for change

MHA Paul Dinn, the PC Opposition’s health-care critic, says it’s unacceptable that the health-care system is separating married couples.

“Seniors are dying alone. This particular family is worried about that … as many are. It’s time to do something. It’s time to act. These people don’t have time to wait,” he said.

“We’re one of the few provinces that don’t have long-term care legislation. Oldest population in Canada but we don’t have long-term care legislation? There is legislation in other provinces so we can use that as a template. Let’s do it.”

Progressive Conservative MHA and Opposition health critic Paul Dinn says legislative changes are needed to keep couples like the Legges together. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Not enough beds to match demand: health minister

Health Minister John Haggie said he’s aware that couples are sometimes separated in the health-care system.

“I appreciate their distress. It is difficult,” said Haggie, who did not comment on the Legges’ specific case.

I think it would be very difficult to legislate something we couldn’t deliver.– John Haggie

“These are very difficult situations but the situation does arise from time to time where one of the couple requires a significantly different level of care than the other and we have facilities in the province that are distinguished by the level of care the client requires.”

Haggie says the regional health-care facilities that provide care to people with the greatest needs are very “challenged” for beds so legislation that mandates keeping couples together isn’t possible in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Health Minister John Haggie says the province doesn’t have the capacity to ensure married couples are able to stay together in the same facilities. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

“We don’t have enough beds to match the demand,” he said. “I think it would be very difficult to legislate something we couldn’t deliver.… Our challenge is really around ensuring we have the beds for the people who need that level of care. If you put someone who needs Level 1 or Level 2 care into a facility providing Level 3 or 4 you stop somebody else getting a bed.”

Haggie said the province’s “home first” approach aims to see more people cared for in the community and thus reduce demand on health-care facilities.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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