Tommy Jutcovich is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital — unable to walk, talk, eat or use his hands — and his only lifeline to the outside world was taken away from him.
The 69-year-old much beloved retired Toronto District School board principal was diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy eight years ago — a rare disease that presents similar to ALS — and is only able to communicate by either blinking one eye or through his computer tablet.
But his daughter, Adalia Schweitzer, said Friday that his tablet has literally been shut off by hospital staff over allegations it is being used to conduct “surveillance” of his care and is not providing a “safe and secure environment” for the nurses and other employees who service his needs.
After spending four months in the ICU at North York General Hospital, she said her dad was transferred to Toronto Grace a week ago — against the wishes of the family — to make room at NYGH for COVID-19 patients.
When her mom was no longer able to be by his side at NYGH due to the escalating pandemic, they came up with the idea of the tablet.
Through an app, her mom was able to program the tablet from home to assist with his daily readings from the Torah, allow him to watch the news and listen to podcasts.
They’d also do daily video conferencing with all members of the family, who live in different countries and time zones.
NYGH had no problem with his use of the tablet, Schweitzer said.
She said her father was admitted with his tablet on Thursday and he was using it until the patient care manager informed the family three days later that it was an “issue of privacy” and he would only be permitted to access his tablet one hour a day — at a time acceptable to hospital staff and subject to their availability.
Schweitzer feels because he was in a new hospital situation, the nurses didn’t “appreciate” that her mom was trying to advocate for his care needs and advise them of his “very strict” medication schedule.
She said the other day, while he was doing his Torah prayers, a hospital staff member actually came in to his private room and “just shut it off.”
When the family tried to work out a compromise, lawyers got into the mix and Thursday night the family received a letter indicating the hospital does not permit monitors that “allow the continuous surveillance and recording of what is occurring within the hospital.”
The lawyer’s letter also stated that hospital employees have a “reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace” and the hospital must provide employees and professional staff with a “safe and secure work environment.”
Schweitzer said all staff have to do is put the tablet on “mute” or “turn it off” when they come in to his private room to take care of her father.
“No one’s stopping them from turning off his tablet or turning it around when they are doing his care,” she said. “They’re calling it a monitor … we’re calling it his lifeline.”
Lt.-Col. John Murray, board chair of Toronto Grace health centre, said in an e-mailed statement they are committed to “providing exceptional and compassionate care” but the Personal Health Information Protection Act prohibits the use of a monitor that can be “controlled remotely” from outside a public hospital.
When I suggested what they were doing is tantamount to elder abuse, Murray said “nothing could be further from the truth” and that they are doing “everything possible” to ensure loved ones remain connected to their families.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott’s spokesman Hayley Chazan said she’s not able to comment on the specifics because hospitals operate autonomously. However, she did say she expects Ontario hospitals to “act reasonably” to support patients during this unprecedented crisis.
Schweitzer said the entire family is “heartbroken.”
“My dad was always a passionate advocate for causes he believed in … and now he can’t speak up for himself,” she said. “(What the hospital is doing) is not acceptable.”
This content was originally published here.