A live-in care worker who neglected a Kamloops senior to the point that she nearly died of malnutrition will undergo a pair of psychiatric evaluations to determine why it happened, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ordered.
Dawn Brush, 55, has pleaded guilty to one count of failure to provide the necessities of life between January 2017 and May 2019 to an elderly woman for whom she cared, with submissions for sentencing being heard in court in Kamloops this week.
From an agreed statement of facts, court heard that for 15 years, Brush had been the caregiver for the “severely developmentally disabled” woman who requires 24-hour care, including assistance with eating, getting dressed, mobility, personal hygiene and using the bathroom.
Brush — who worked for Thompson Community Services (TCS) and contracted through Community Living B.C. — was tasked with ensuring the woman, who was 68 years old in 2019, was fed and clothed, attended medical appointments and took her prescribed medications.
The neglect was revealed in May 2019 following a routine inspection and a doctor’s appointment.
Brush’s supervisors noticed during a visit that the woman looked thin and that her house smelled of urine, despite the bathrooms appearing clean. The woman’s family doctor also called Brush to schedule an appointment as he hadn’t seen his patient in two years, despite regular appointments before that.
When Brush took the woman to her doctor, he commented that she had lost muscle mass to the point she was “just almost bone,” Justice Sherri Donegan said in court.
The doctor had the woman taken to Royal Inland Hospital and later told police she would have died of malnutrition if there hadn’t been intervention.
The woman was admitted to hospital on May 6, 2019, weighing just 72 pounds.
She was noted as having crust in her eyes, a white film on her lips and smelled strongly of urine. She also had overgrown nails, unkempt and matted hair, a sore on her right hip and one on her temple that later required a skin graft to repair.
“When a thermometer was put in her mouth, she sucked on it as a baby would a bottle,” Donegan said.
The Kamloops RCMP began investigating Brush on May 10, 2019, following a complaint from Community Living B.C.
A search warrant was executed on the household, during which officers seized administration records, which indicated the elderly woman had been receiving medications, but her pharmacy hadn’t filled any since 2017. Brush later admitted she hadn’t filled any of the woman’s prescriptions since July of 2017.
Brush pleaded guilty in March of this year, but disputed aggravating facts asserted by Crown prosecutor Tim Livingston. He contested Brush knew she was initialing prescription administration forms that had been altered to seem as though the woman was receiving her medication. Livingston also said the woman’s home was in the same state of neglect that police found upon their search of the residence.
Police searched the home, while Brush was there, about a week after the woman had been removed. Officers said they found it was dirty, cluttered and unsanitary, detecting a smell of urine and finding animal feces on the floor. The woman’s room was messy, with garbage strewn about and clothing piled on the floor, while her bed was dirty and soiled, with a blood-stained pillow and skin flakes in the sheets.
In court on Nov. 24, Donegan ruled in favour of Livingston’s positions, noting it wasn’t possible for the house to have reached such an advanced state of disarray in the week that passed after the woman was removed. Donegan said the only reasonable inference regarding the documents — given Brush had admitted to neglecting prescriptions, but initialing related forms — is that she knew she was signing forged documents. Donegan did not, however, rule that Brush was the one who altered those documents.
Donegan has ordered Brush undergo both a psychiatric assessment and psychosocial reports before sentencing, noting “the why of this crime needs to be answered.”
Defence lawyer Cameron Johnson told KTW it could be eight or nine weeks before the reports are completed and Brush’s sentence rendered.
“We all want to know why,” he told KTW.
At present, the woman, who was severely emaciated when she was admitted to RIH, is in much better condition.
She was placed on a high-calorie diet at the hospital when admitted in May of 2019. Two months later, in July, she was moved to a group home, where she now resides. The woman weighed 109 pounds by September of 2019 and now checks in at about 170 pounds.
Donegan said the woman is now “thriving,” noting her strength and mobility have dramatically improved and her hair has regrown.