Rail safety at issue again after train hits elderly man

WHITE ROCK – An elderly dementia patient struck by a freight train in White Rock on Saturday night had wandered away from Evergreen Baptist, a nearby care home, according to the Fraser Health Authority.

The man, believed to be in his late 70s, was struck at about 8:15 p.m. and airlifted to hospital where he is recovering from serious head injuries. According to the RCMP, he was walking southbound on the track when he was struck by a Burlington North Santa Fe freight train. The engineer sounded the advanced warning horn.

The victim, whose name has not been released, had reportedly wandered from the care home at about 8 p.m. although he was not reported missing until 9 p.m. The Evergreen Care Home is about 10 blocks from where the man was struck, in the 14500-block of Marine Drive – between High Street and Bay Street.

In a statement released a day after the accident, Evergreen Care Home executive director Stephen Bennett said: “This individual had been living in one of our care units, and wandered away from our facility earlier that evening.”

Bennett also said that Evergreen has begun an investigation and that further information would be available once the investigation is complete.

Tasleem Juma, spokeswoman for Fraser Health Authority, said the agency would be launching their own “full investigation” into the incident.

Juma said that Evergreen Care Home is not a Fraser Health facility, but the health authority does have contracted beds there.

She was not aware of any previous incidents at the facility.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said he was saddened to hear the senior had been struck by a train.

Baldwin said that increasing train traffic has been a concern for White Rock council. A female jogger was struck while crossing the tracks in White Rock in July 2013 (scan with Layar to read full story).

“There is a high volume of trains. In the evening about 20 or so trains and it’s increased in the past couple of years from about half a dozen to about 20,” said Baldwin.

While the main concern is the carrying of dangerous goods through densely populated areas over poorly maintained infrastructure, Baldwin said two pedestrians being struck in the last seven months is “more than in the last 20 years.”

The security of seniors with dementia who may wander from homes has been of increasing concern throughout the Lower Mainland and the province. In December 2013, Joan Warren, a 76-year-old senior was found dead near the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge after wandering away from a secure section of Sunrise Senior Living of Lynn Valley. Warren died of hypothermia.

After Warren’s death, B.C. premier Christy Clark said in a radio interview that she was disappointed a provincial seniors’ advocate had not yet been appointed. Her government announced the creation of the position in February 2012, and passed the Seniors Advocate Act, following a report by the B.C. Ombudsman’s office, which

uncovered a wide range of problems for seniors.

Advocates say 70,000 B.C. residents suffer from some form of dementia, and the number is expected to double in the next 25 years. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., 60 to 70 per cent of those afflicted with the disorder wander.

Many hospitals and some longterm care facilities use CCTV cameras and there is ongoing debate about options such as tracking or GPS devices, which are considered controversial due to issues including privacy and informed consent.

In the U.S., several states have instituted a Silver Alert system, similar to the Amber Alert, specifically designed to locate seniors with dementia, or cognitively impaired individuals who go missing.

The Canadian Medical Association has called for a national strategy on dementia. Canada is the only G8 country without such a strategy.

Evergreen Care Home has 157 complex care units, 84 assisted living units and 110 supportive housing units on site.

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