Wheelchair-bound man’s deadly fall examined

An inquiry into the death of a 47-year-old wheelchair-bound man began in Red Deer with two Parkland Community Living and Supports Society employees taking the stand.

An inquiry into the death of a 47-year-old wheelchair-bound man began in Red Deer with two Parkland Community Living and Supports Society employees taking the stand.

Richard David Jacknife, 47, of Red Deer died a week after he fell down the basement stairs of the group home where he lived. The fall took place on Nov. 4, 2010, and he died on Nov. 11, 2010, at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

Jacknife suffered two strokes in 2009. He recovered from the one in January but the second stroke in February left him confined to a wheelchair.

New practices to accommodate his new condition had to be put into place starting in March 2009. These included putting locks on doors to the basement in the hopes of preventing falls.

Wednesday was the start of the three-day fatality inquiry in Red Deer provincial court before Judge Gordon Yake.

Daniel Verstrate, Parkland Community Living and Supports Society chief operating officer, took the stand to talk about the numerous reports created in light of the incident. On top of the report created by Parkland, there were reports created by Persons with Developmental Disabilities Alberta and the Protection of Person and Care Association. Both Verstrate and Alicia Congdon, a behavioural consultant with Parkland, said they had not seen the PDD report until just a few weeks prior to the inquiry.

Immediately following Jacknife’s fall, the locks on the doors were changed. Before the fall, they were designed to allow the person who lived in the basement of Jacknife’s group home to move about the house freely. The lock would unlock when someone from the basement turned the handle, but from the top of the stairs you needed a key to access the basement. The new lock had a push button from the basement to unlock it and the button had to be pushed in from upstairs to ensure it would lock. There were orange signs saying the doors must be locked and closed on either side of the door and sheets of paper staff had to initial when they went downstairs and then up again.

Verstrate was asked by William Olthuis of Alberta Justice why they didn’t set up an alarm to ensure the door was closed. He replied that they would prefer to have their clients feel at home and not treated like they were warehoused. He said an alarm sounding every time the door opens doesn’t lend itself to a feeling of home.

There was also discussion of having an auto-closing door, but Verstrate said some clients take a little longer to go through the doorway and having a door close that could knock them over before they had the chance to get through would not be safe.

The inquiry continues today with more testimony from Parkland Community Living and Supports Society employees.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com