Stress of job, caring for disabled sister left woman ‘shattered’
SHERWOOD PARK Denise Scriven told a fatality inquiry into the death of her disabled sister, Betty Anne Gagnon, that she had a “sense of dread” when she was asked to assume Gagnon’s care in 2005.
Nonetheless, Scriven, a registered nurse, said Wednesday that she and her partner, Michael Scriven, took on the responsibility because “she’s family.”
Gagnon, who was developmentally delayed and extremely visually impaired, died four years later from a severe brain injury at the age of 48. She was also terribly malnourished.
A public inquiry finally began in Sherwood Park this week, eight years after Gagnon’s death.
Scriven and her husband previously pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life in 2013, and were each sentenced to 20 months in custody.
Denise Scriven testified her sister, who stood 5-foot-2, was obese when she came to live with her. When she died, she weighed just 65 pounds.
At first, Scriven testified, the family functioned well. But, Scriven said, Gagnon’s behaviour became more difficult. She began compulsively covering her hands and objects in the house with feces.
Meanwhile, Scriven testified, she experienced a mental breakdown, due to the stress of working as an emergency room nurse.
“I was broken — emotionally, mentally broken,” Scriven testified. “Broken is a shallow way to see it. I was shattered. And all I could do was cry and cry.”
She attempted suicide several times and began using crack cocaine. She told the court her husband was suicidal. He testified he also turned to drugs.
Denise Scriven said she asked for help from her family doctor and from the province’s Persons with Developmental Disabilities board, but no help was made available.
Denise Harwardt, the lawyer representing PDD, disputed that testimony, saying staff tried repeatedly to find alternate placements for Gagnon, but that Scriven didn’t return calls or messages.
Her family doctor, Scriven said, told her Gagnon could be accommodated at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, but suggested she only had 30 days to break Gagnon of her compulsive feces-spreading habit.
They decided to shame Gagnon into stopping. They locked her in a dog run and made her sleep in a homemade “pen.”