WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) is investigating why a developmentally challenged Jewish man froze to death after he apparently went outside for a cigarette at the Jewish nursing home here.
Barry Collen, 74, died of hypothermia after being outside for 31/2 hours in -20 Celsius weather. He was found by a Sharon Home worker at around 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 2 in the outdoor courtyard of the Sharon Home at the Kanee Centre in Winnipeg’s north end several hours after he had entered the area to have a cigarette.
Ann Collen, Barry Collen’s sister-in-law, said that she “found out about Barry’s death from the police. The Sharon Home didn’t even notify me that he had died.”
According to Saul Collen, Collen’s nephew, “The Winnipeg Police were the first to be called in to the scene. Barry apparently fell and banged his head while outside in the courtyard and was found lying in a pool of blood.”
“They have a smoking room [at the Sharon Home], but he had been banned from the smoking room because he smoked too much… If he’d been allowed in, this wouldn’t have happened,” Anne Collen said.
“When he first became a resident of the Sharon Home, Barry was allowed to smoke in the smoking room. But at some point that changed. I don’t know why exactly,” Saul Collen added.
Anyone wanting to enter the courtyard where Collen’s body was found is required to enter a code, but no code is needed to get back inside. It’s not known why Collen couldn’t get back inside.
“It seems that once inside the courtyard, the door may have locked on Barry, and he couldn’t get out. We’re not really sure how or why this happened. Although there is a key pad to get in, there isn’t a key pad to get out,” Saul Collen said.
“We are investigating all the circumstances of his death,” WRHA spokesperson Heidi Graham said.
Winnipeg Police have ruled out any suspicious cause of death.
According to his sister-in-law, Barry Collen had the intellectual capacity of a five-year-old as a result of a condition he was born with.
He also had Charcot Marie Tooth, a neurological disease that made it difficult for him to feel cold in his feet and fingers. It also affected his balance and made it very difficult for him to use buttons or zippers.
Because of these facts, Anne Collen feels that staff should have kept a close eye on him during cold weather.
“They should have been checking on him,” she said, adding that she questions why it took Sharon Home workers so long to find him, regardless of the exact cause of death.
“The medical examiner’s office told us that Barry was fully clothed and was fully zipped up when he was found in the courtyard. Barry had a down-filled parka. Because of Barry’s medical condition, he wouldn’t have been able to zip up his parka himself, so I think that an orderly or other staff member from the Sharon Home must have done up his jacket before he went outside,” Saul Collen said.
“The courtyard is all surrounded by glass, so in the daytime it’s easy to see into it. But I don’t know if there are any lights there at night,” he said.
He added: “Barry was a roamer. It would have been usual for him to roam around the building during the night and also to go outside. There is a security desk at the main entrance of the Sharon Home, and when he went out the main entrance to go for a smoke, he would be seen by security. But to get to the courtyard, you don’t have to go through the main entrance.”
Sandra Delorme, Sharon Home president and CEO, did not respond to calls for comment on this story. But she told Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News that Barry was competent enough to head out for a smoke.
She added that staff didn’t become alarmed when Barry didn’t come back to his room at night, because he had a tendency to roam around the building day and night, and it wasn’t unusual for him not to be in his room.
She noted that Collen had been a resident of the home since 2004 and had been going to the courtyard for years to smoke without incident.
“No one from the executive or board of the Sharon Home has had any contact with our family since Barry’s death, not even to express condolences,” said Saul Collen.
Johanna Abbot, director of Manitoba’s office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said that an autopsy confirmed that Collen died from exposure.