A young Surrey woman is fighting to have her grandparents reunited, after they were left separated in different care facilities in Metro Vancouver for months.
“Besides the heartbreak, I’m really mad,” Ashley Bartyik told Daily Hive. “It’s a dire situation.”
Bartyik says her grandparents Wolfram and Anita Gottschalk are a passionate couple, married for 62 years.
A bricklayer and a homemaker in their younger years, the couple moved to Canada from Germany soon after they got married, and were well known in the community.
Now 83, Wolfram has dementia, and Anita, 81, has mobility and heart issues. Despite that, she continued to look after him in their own home – until this year.
In January, Wolfram’s condition worsened and Fraser Health decided he needed to be placed in a nursing home to receive proper care.
Wolfram was placed temporarily at Yale Road Centre, a transitional facility where seniors who can’t get the care they need at home await permanent placement in a nursing home.
Suffering from dementia and apart for the first time in decades, Bartyik says her family feared Wolfram may forget Anita, and began taking her to visit him every other day.
One month later, Anita decided to move to a care home too, and joined the waitlist, requesting that she and Wolfram be placed together somewhere.
No suitable beds became available until July, when Anita finally got the call. She had a spot at Morgan Heights – but there was no room yet for Wolfram. Thinking she wouldn’t have to wait much longer for Wolfram to get a place, she moved in. But the family are still waiting – and still taking Anita to visit Wolfram every other day.
It was during one of these recent visits Bartyik took the photo at the top of this story, showing her grandparents crying as they sit together in the care home. The day after she took the photo, Wolfram was diagnosed with lymphoma. Bartyik calls it the “saddest photo I have ever taken.”
“My grandfather has fallen through the cracks, he’s being punished for being sick,” said Bartyik. “Something needs to be done.”
Fraser Health says it’s doing everything it can to get the couple together, but the challenge is waiting for a bed to become available.
“It’s very sad, they are obviously feeling this separation, and we sympathize absolutely,” Tasleem Juma, senior consultant for public affairs, told Daily Hive.
“It’s clearly very heartbreaking for the family, and it’s very upsetting for us. It’s not a situation we like to see.”
Juma declined to explain why the couple weren’t placed in a suitable care home together in the months before Anita was offered a solo place at Morgan Heights.
“We’re still working at trying to get him into Morgan Heights. Because we’re waiting for a specific facility, we have to wait longer,” said Juma.
Juma suggested Fraser Health are also looking at other homes that could take both of them, but Bartyik rejected that idea, saying her grandmother is already settled.
“My grandmother is now settled in Morgan Heights. For them to suggest moving her again, it’s redundant. Think of the stress and distress on my grandmother to move again.”
Bartyik’s complaints about her grandparents’ treatment first came to light on Facebook, where she posted her photo of them in their despair, together with their whole story. Her post was shared more than 3,000 times. One of those shares actually got a response from Fraser Health, saying they were working closely with the family to get them reunited.
Facing criticism for replying to the wrong person, Juma said they responded to the sharer because Bartyik’s Facebook privacy settings prevented them contacting her directly. Juma also says Fraser Health had an in-person meeting at Yale Road Centre with the family on Friday, and they were working with them to resolve the situation.
But Bartyik refutes all that, saying that her family had heard nothing from them on the issue and that nothing prevented Fraser Health private messaging her on Facebook.
“For Fraser Health to say they’ve been in contact when they haven’t… it’s disgusting, it’s shameful,” said Bartyik.
Although angry over Fraser Health’s communications, Bartyik says she believes the bigger problem is a lack of beds, due to a lack of funding for seniors care.
“In an emergency situation, if we can’t get people to be reunited, these buildings don’t have enough beds,” she said.
Juma however said Fraser Health recently announced the opening of 403 new beds across the region.
“[Both Wolfram and Anita] are in a facility and receiving appropriate care,” said Juma.
Nevertheless, Bartyik hopes publicizing her family’s ordeal will help shine a light on BC’s health care system, which she describes simply as “broken.”
“We’re all going to be seniors at some point in our life.
“It’s about time policymakers had some compassion and started giving proper funds to an area of Canadian life that’s been completely lacking.”
After Daily Hive spoke with both parties on Thursday, Bartyik told us she got a call from Fraser Health to say they are making her grandparents’ case a priority. However, Fraser Health still could not give her a timeline on when they would be reunited. In the meantime, all Wolfram and Anita can do is wait.