The B.C. Coroners office is examining whether a major investigation into violence among residents of care homes is needed after two seniors were assaulted by fellow residents, leading to a murder charge in one case.
The service is investigating both incidents as unnatural deaths, which might yield lessons to prevent future occurances, Barb McClintock, a spokesperson for the service, said in an interview on Monday.
She added that a larger, more comprehensive probe called a death review panel could also be done.
Enacted as an option in 2008, these panels of experts take a systemic look at several similar cases.
Ms. McClintock noted that such reviews have been done on coastal aviation, youth suicide, domestic violence and motorcycle safety.
"We bring together the best minds in the province around the issues involved, whatever they are, and decide what recommendations would be useful and reasonable and practical," Ms. McClintock said.
"There would appear, on the surface, to possibly be some similarities between these cases and, if there's any systemic issues, it would be dumb to repeat ourselves and do it twice and not look at it together.'
But she added that it is not yet time to commit to the possibility. "It's too early to say," she said.
John Furman, a 95-year-old decorated veteran of the Second World War, was charged with second-degree murder in the August death of his 85-year-old roommate at a Vernon care home. Last week, the charge was stayed because the crown deemed Mr. Furman unfit to stand trial due to severe dementia.
In the other case, Jack Shippobotham, 79, was attacked by another resident at a Kamloops care home, and suffered a broken hip and nose. He died three weeks later of those injuries. His assailant has also died since the June incident.
Violent acts have not been limited to B.C. Last month, in Toronto, an 81-year-old man was charged with second-degree murder in the death of an 87-year-old fellow resident of a nursing home.
The president of the B.C. Nurses Union said she welcomed the possibility of a broad corners' focus on the cases, given the union's ongoing concerns about issues related to the operation of seniors' care homes, including violence among residents.
Debra McPherson said staffing shortages at facilities limit the ability to deal with residents who are violent due to dementia.
"We have people now with significant degrees of dementia being admitted to these facilities, and there's just not enough staff, there's not security, the layout is not good, the training is not good," she said. "It's health care's dirty little secret."
Ms. McPherson said she had no studies at hand to quantify her concerns, but has heard about these issues from union members.
"I think if the coroner's office or a review panel made some strong recommendations in this regard, the government, I would hope, would listen to them," she said.
Ron Candy, curator of the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives, said of Mr. Furman that it was unfortunate that a man who made such a significant military contribution would face a murder charge at this stage in his life. He also said his heart goes out to the victim.
He said some review would be helpful. "If there's anything that needs to be improved in seniors' complexes or in caring for patients and something comes out that improves patient care, that would be a wonderful thing," he said. "Perhaps an investigation will reveal some weaknesses in the system that need to be addressed."