Elderly couple forced to spend Christmas apart for the first time in 70 years

An elderly Canadian man and wife are heartbroken after learning that they will be separated for the first time in seven decades a week before Christmas.

                            Elderly couple forced to spend Christmas apart for the first time in 70 years

A Canadian couple will be spending their first Christmas holidays apart for the first time in 70 years.

Herbert Goodine, 91, and his wife Audrey, 89, have been living together at the Victoria Villa Special Care Home in New Brunswick for the last three years. 

Herbert and Audrey Goodine have been married for 70 years (From Dianne Phillips' Facebook post that has since been removed)

Howeverm earlier this month, a health assessment found that 91-year-old Herbert Goodine’s health was deteriorating and said he would have to be moved out of the special care facility where he had lived with his wife Audrey, 89, for more than three years.

Staff at the facility say they can no longer adequately care for Herbert, who suffers from dementia, due to his deteriorating health. 

The couple shared a moving goodbye kiss as Goodine was moved to another care home located 45 minutes away.

The decision to separate the couple just before Christmas has angered their daughter, Dianne Phillips, who called the current system “unethical and cruel”. 

The couple’s daughter said she was informed about the impending move on Friday in an email. “I read this message over several times in disbelief of how can anyone be so cold and cruel to do this a week prior to Christmas,” she wrote on social media.

The facility in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, told the couple on Friday that he must move that weekend.

Their story has sparked outrage across the country.

"When talking to my parents yesterday I listened to my mother weep and I could hear my father in the background," their daughter Dianne Phillips wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

"My mother said, 'Christmas is over for us now and this is the worst Christmas that we will ever have. Why could they not have waited till after the holidays?'"

Mrs. Phillips' post has since been shared 15,000 times and attracted a raft of comments from well-wishers. Ms. Philips responded to them with another post on Monday which read: 'First of all I want to say thank you for this overwhelming show of support. 

Herbert at his new home (Image: Facebook/Dianne Goodine Phillips)

"The plan was carried through and my father was transfer to Plaster Rock Tobique Valley Manor to a Relief Care bed. There were tears saying goodbye to my mother and lonely faces tonight.

'To respond to a few comments, My dad was reassessed a week ago and requires Level 3 care, and my mother remains Level 2. The Victoria Villa is a Level 2 care home, and I understand my father needs to be moved.'

Mrs. Phillips said she received a call on Friday from the provincial department that oversees long-term care saying that her father, whose health has declined recently, would have to be moved to a home with more advanced care.

She says that when she was not immediately able to make a decision, the department "forced them to make the decision on their own."

The issue, said Phillips, was not the decision but the timing. While still in early stages, her father’s dementia had progressed and he had broken some of the rules at the facility, including turning off a door alarm so that he could step outside to retrieve his wife’s ornaments.

'However, my repeated request was ignored. Because I was unwilling to make a decision on his new location within a few hours a representative from Social Development and a representative from the Victoria Villa approached my parents and forced them to make the decision on their own.

On Monday, Herbert and Audrey kissed and bade a tearful goodbye as they prepared to sleep in separate beds for the first time in decades. Audrey stood by the window, watching as her husband was driven to his new home.

The goodbye kiss (facebook)

“My parents have been together for a total of 73 years and still sleep in the same bed. I feel people need to know what a flawed system we have in place,” she said. 

 “There were tears saying goodbye to my mother and lonely faces,” she added. 

 “It was brought to my attention there may have been resources to facilitate my father's needs for a few more days to allow them to remain together until Christmas, but none were offered to us and time ran out to put things in place before our unrealistic deadline.

“We too are waiting for answers to clarify how something like this could happen. My father may have needs, however, like any other citizen he has the right to enjoy his life and spending this season with his wife was part of that.

“This should never take place to another human again.” 

Dianne Phillips with her mother (Image: Facebook/Dianne Goodine Phillips)

The association that represents special care homes in the province said the decision was based on safety concerns, pointing to the fact that special care homes are not equipped with locking systems.

“With dementia, if we get into a situation here where somebody is wandering out the front door and we don’t have a coded system, then really their safety is at risk,” said Jan Seely. “Nobody wants to read in the paper that a senior has gone missing.”

New Brunswick’s department of social development said it was aware of the situation but would not comment on the details of the case. “If it’s determined that a senior needs additional care or that their safety is potentially in jeopardy, the department works with the resident and family members to facilitate a move to an appropriate home,” said a spokesperson for the department.

“Individuals who require a higher level of care than what can be provided in special care homes are moved to where their needs can be more appropriately met, such as in a nursing home or a memory care home.”

Jennifer Eagen, the owner of Victoria Villa, told Global News she could not comment on individual cases but said the facility is not equipped to look after residents who need high-level care. 

 “Once a resident is beyond our care, [the Department of Social Development] reassesses that resident to determine what level they are. At that point, I have to follow those rules and regulations set by the government. In fact, it’s against the law for me not to follow those rules,” she said. 

“It normally doesn’t take very long because once a resident is beyond our care, we’re not equipped to look after them so it becomes a big safety concern for that resident. So any resident reassessed at a higher level, usually, it’s within a day or two, end up moving on to somewhere else.”

Ms. Phillips said: "At this time of year, the way things took place, I feel that is abuse to seniors. It's emotional abuse. It might not be physical, but I do believe it is emotional.'

In his new home 30 minutes from his wife which he moved into on Monday, Mr. Goodine said: 'Well, we had a beautiful room, two rooms, really.'

But he kept a brave face, adding: 'Well if nothing happens to her, it'll be good because she'll be rid of me for a little while.'

Mr. Goodine is due to stay in the new home for a month before he can be reunited with his wife under new living arrangements. 

The couple will get to spend some of Christmas Day together at their daughter’s home. 

Hours after leaving his wife, Herbert said he was eager to see her again. “You don’t know how close we are,” he told CBC. “And always was.”

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