Connect  |  Newsletter  |  Donate

Espanola family wants answers after dementia patient badly burned

Posted: March 4, 2023

(March 03, 2023)

By: Mary Katherine Keown, The Sudbury Star

Extendicare Corp. has apologized after a patient with dementia suffered severe burns at Extendicare York in Sudbury.

Extendicare Corp. has apologized after a patient with dementia suffered severe burns at Extendicare York in Sudbury. PHOTO BY JOHN LAPPA/THE SUDBURY STAR

Please be aware, the photo of Frank Bruhmuller’s injuries is quite graphic. 

After a scary early-morning incident that resulted in third-degree burns, Diane Bruhmuller wants answers.

Bruhmuller wants to know why — and how — her husband, Frank, ended up in the emergency room at Health Sciences North with burns to his arm and a bloody wound to his lip.  

Frank, originally from Espanola, lives with dementia and has been a resident at Extendicare York since December 2021. Bruhmuller understood her husband would be transferred to the Espanola long-term care facility within one year, as most of his family lives in the small town. But he remains in Sudbury.  

At 4:15 a.m. on Feb. 16, Bruhmuller received a phone call — the kind nobody likes to hear in the darkest hours of night. She was told Frank had suffered burns and was being transferred to HSN.

Bruhmuller lives in Espanola, so the next morning she made her way to the hospital. When she arrived, she was told Frank had suffered first-, second- and third-degree burns.

“His arm was all bandaged, so I couldn’t really see too much of what had happened, but the doctor told me he had never seen anything like that come from a long-term care facility,” she said. “He said it was a possibility my husband would need skin grafts. I was horrified; I didn’t even know what to think.”

Bruhmuller was told “Frank’s arm and hand were hanging over his bed and resting on the baseboard heater. His bed was beside the heater, which had no heat safety guards to prevent injury.”

Frank did require skin grafts nearly one week after his injury. 


Frank Bruhmuller suffered severe burns when his arm was left hanging over his bed and resting on the baseboard heater at Extendicare York.
Frank Bruhmuller suffered severe burns when his arm was left hanging over his bed and resting on the baseboard heater at Extendicare York. SUPPLIED IMAGE

Because he has dementia, Frank has an early bedtime of about 9 p.m. Bruhmuller was told staff checked on him at 1 a.m., so she has no idea how long his arm was dangling over the edge of his bed. 

“No one knows anything,” Bruhmuller said. “I was told he was checked at 1 a.m. and I was called at 4:15 a.m., so I have no idea how long his arm was laying on that baseboard.” 

Because of the dementia, Bruhmuller said Frank did not recognize the origin of his pain. But he felt it.  

“His reaction was to bite down on his lips, causing additional injuries,” she commented. “He is currently recovering, but was, and still is, in much pain.”

Bruhmuller admits “everything is an assumption, because nobody was there.”  

Markham-based Extendicare Corp. acknowledged Thursday that something went terribly wrong the night of Feb. 16.  

“Last month, a resident at Extendicare York was sent to hospital for treatment after his bed was moved too close to a radiator, a location that is clearly inappropriate and far out of line with our safety policies,” the company said in an emailed statement. “The resident’s family was notified immediately and the situation was reported to the Ministry of Long-Term Care. The resident returned from hospital later the same day and has been at the home since, with the exception of a follow-up treatment on Feb. 24. We are deeply saddened this happened. It should not have taken place and we sincerely apologized to the family.”

Extendicare said since the unfortunate incident took place, Frank’s bed has been “moved to the correct location in the room. In addition, the home has been audited to ensure all resident beds are in appropriate locations in line with our safety policies. The home will continue to undergo monthly audits to ensure these placements are maintained and we will issue a safety alert to all homes to ensure there is no risk of a similar incident.”

Extendicare also noted the radiators in their long-term care facilities “meet the standards of the Canadian Standards Association.”

Bruhmuller has shared images of her husband’s injuries. They are ghastly. Frank’s entire forearm was damaged by the heater. There were several patches where the skin was entirely burned away, revealing the tender tissue underneath. The arm was swollen and red. There were several areas where the wounds were weeping. His hand is entirely blistered. The injuries look very painful. 

While the incident was upsetting for Frank’s family, Bruhmuller said it raises the spotlight on the state of long-term care in Ontario. She wants to know why Frank has not been admitted to a facility closer to home and she wants to know why companies continue to operate facilities that are aging, out-of-date and under-staffed. 

“It’s not just Extendicare; it’s all long-term care,” she said. “People have to know. I’ve been to long-term care to visit, but this is the first time I’m having a loved one there, and people don’t have any idea unless you’re in it. I’m there to take care of him. I was told he’d be safe, that he’d be well taken care of, that I would be visiting him as his wife, not his caregiver, but nothing could be further from the truth.” 

The Ontario Health Coalition advocates daily for more staff in long-term care homes, but Melissa Wood, a spokesperson for the group, said Thursday that some facilities also need to be modernized. 

“We need better staff-to-resident ratios. Often during a nightshift, there may only be one or two individuals working a floor. If there were more workers it may have been possible to have caught the accident sooner,” Wood said. “It also doesn’t help that there is not enough space for the elderly in many of the older buildings that do not meet required codes for long-term care, as most new buildings do not have baseboard heating.” 

The coalition has been advocating for better care in long-term care facilities for years. COVID-19 brought to light many of the problems with care homes, but the issues pre-dated the pandemic, and they remain a constant concern for those who interact with long-term care in the province.

“This is an unfortunate incident, to say the least, for the family and the resident. This is a situation that never should have happened, with all the risk factors that are in place through Ministry of Health and Long-term Care regulations. What is on paper and what the reality is for residents are two different experiences,” Wood added. “For countless years the OHC has been advocating and sounding the whistle bells for minimum care standards due to heavy workloads and increased resident behaviours, and for-profit healthcare, which takes the care out and puts it in the hands of shareholders. 

“It all has cause-and-effect, as we want our loved ones to be in the safest place possible. My heart goes out to all families who have loved ones that are not well, especially not well enough to stay in their own homes.”
Twitter: @marykkeown
Facebook: @mkkeown

Click here for original article