Issues boiling over at Cranbrook seniors home after resident sexually assaulted despite staff warnings - InfoNews

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Issues boiling over at Cranbrook seniors home after resident sexually assaulted despite staff warnings

Image Credit: Pexels.com / Matthias Zomer
June 01, 2020 - 7:30 AM

There were plenty of warning signs that one of the residents at a Cranbrook long-term care facility was wandering the facility at night and entering the rooms of other residents.

But despite complaints to management and Interior Health, nothing was done to deal with him until the RCMP were called in February after he allegedly sexually assaulted another resident.

A relative of the victim – who did not want the woman to be identified – says she learned about several other incidents from the same man, but only after she was finally informed by police.

“The day I went in, after the police called me, one of the staff members was totally amazed that I had not been called before because incidents had occurred before,” the family member said. “They thought we should have been made aware of them immediately and we weren’t until the police were called.”

For many familiar with the Joseph Creek Care Village, the incidents have as much to do with a long history of understaffing and indifference by both management and Interior Health as it does about the man responsible. Like many other for-profit long term care centres, families of residents say the facility understaffing is at the root of many issues.

“The cleanliness is exceptional, the food is decent,” Janis Caldwell told iNFOnews.ca. Her mother was a resident there for 13 years before she died in January 2019. “The workers are excellent. They care. They love these people. But, at the end of the day, you’re one person looking after 11 to 12 people… How can you possibly give the appropriate care that’s needed? Make no mistake, it’s a complete gong show."

Conditions in long-term care facilities have been under a microscope even before COVID-19 exposed problems in the industry. Shortly before a class action suit against three private seniors homes on Vancouver Island, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie published a report in February critical of the financial model, staffing levels that don't ensure adequate staff on each shift.

Caldwell, and others, say they saw that on a regular basis at Joseph Creek.

READ MORE: Expect more troubling reports to come to light at B.C. seniors homes

Margaret Wills’ mother died in the home last year but not before being left hanging in a toilet swing for more than an hour.

“They use a sling to move them around,” Wills said. “I witnessed a care aid put her on the toilet. She thought I was leaving to go back to Vancouver but I was just going to run a few errands. I came back an hour-and-a-half later and my mother was still there.”

She recalls that happening on her mother’s birthday, May 16, 2017.

Wills filed a complaint with management.

Joseph Creek opened in 1998 as Golden Life's first care home. The company now owns 11 facilities in the Kootenays, four in Alberta and two are listed on its web page as “coming soon” to Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Joseph Creek has two floors with 102 rooms divided into eight "pods" or "neighbourhoods." The lower floor is for dementia patients. By some estimates, the vast majority of those on the upper floor have some form of dementia or senility.

Wills doesn’t think a file was opened on the sling incident because she was told by management that she did not see her mother in the sling for the whole time and it was her word against staff’s.

“I filed a complaint every time I went there and they were short staffed,” Wills said, listing off a number of complaints she and others filed. “One person cannot care for all those people. It’s very hard to convey what it’s like down there unless you are witnessing it.”

Caldwell’s mother was also left hanging in a sling over a toilet for almost an hour, “without even a blanket to cover her. Her feet were blue.”

She also has filed complaints.

“I have had numerous meetings with management and, on two times, with one of the owners,” Caldwell said. “They don’t care. Quite honestly, this isn’t just owners. This is the government in Canada in general. Seniors do not have a voice.”

READ MORE: Why we don't hear more complaints about seniors care homes

Interior Health lists complaints on its website. It shows routine inspections from 2015 through to 2018.

An inspection was conducted on Sept. 11, 2018 on three complaints of issues stemming from staff shortages. They were all substantiated.

“There must be sufficient numbers of trained and experienced employees on duty at all times,” the report stated. “Staffing patterns must meet the needs of persons in care and assist persons in care with activities of daily living, including eating, mobility, dressing, grooming and hygiene in a manner consistent with the health, safety and dignity of persons in care.”

As a result, there was a “corrective action plan submitted to Licensing.”

Four more complaints have been substantiated since then but none seem to relate directly to accusations of staff shortages.

READ MORE: Inspection reports suggest why Summerland Seniors Village is now being run by Interior Health

But, for someone like Caldwell, who spent 13 years fighting to get proper care for her mother, the experience has soured her on the whole industry.

“There’s not a chance I will ever go into a senior care home,” she said. “I will put myself in the ground before I go into one of those care homes, unless it changes very, very significantly. It’s disgusting.”

That’s the same sentiment expressed by Jacquie Clinton whose mother died at Joseph Creek in 2007 but who kept in touch with staff and residents there for many years after.

“I told my husband, ‘if I get to that point, put me in my car, put a brick on the gas pedal and take it off a cliff because I’d rather do that than be in that place, ever.’”

Family members of residents and former residents of the Joseph Creek Care Village in Cranbrook are speaking out about understaffing and lack of oversight at that facility.
Family members of residents and former residents of the Joseph Creek Care Village in Cranbrook are speaking out about understaffing and lack of oversight at that facility.
Image Credit: Goldenlifemanagment.ca

She filed complaints and even had a website for a number of years trying to offer advice to others caught in similar situations. It’s now off-line.

She filed one complaint because there were only two care aids in the entire building, she said.

“I brought things to them again and again and again,” she said. “I took it to Licencing (Interior Health) again and again and again. I took it everywhere. I said there’s a big problem there. You don’t have enough staff. They’re changing people at lunch, come in and wash their hands over the sink of dishes then they go back to feeding people. This is not safe. They’re trying to do too many things at one time. So, Licencing goes in and decides they have to wear aprons. I mean, what the hell?"

At a Family Council meeting, she said she lobbied for bed rails but got nowhere.

“Three days later one of the ladies tried to get out of bed, forgot she couldn’t walk,” Clinton said. “She was just black and purple from head to toe. They didn’t find her until morning. She lay in a pool of blood that was already congealing by morning.

“I talked to the manager at that time, ‘so, will you admit this is what we were talking about three days ago? Have you seen her? What do you think?’ She said ‘Jacquie, you need to understand, at a certain point in someone’s life, sometimes they welcome a catastrophic event.’”

That was some years ago and managers have changed since then but the concerns about issues about how a sexual assault was allowed to happen persist.

“The safety and security of Golden Life residents is our number one priority,” Celeste Mullen, Golden Life’s vice president said in an email after being contacted by iNFOnews.ca about the sexual assault and other allegations.

“The Golden Life team followed our established policies and immediately reported the incident to appropriate authorities. Due to the confidential nature of the situation we are unable to share more details and respect the resident and family’s right to privacy. Golden Life is taking this very seriously and has robust measures in place to ensure the safety and peace of mind for individuals in care as we work through the process.”

Interior Health issued this response by email:

“Interior Health’s top priority is the safety and security of individuals in long-term care homes – whether IH owned and operated or contracted partner facilities.

“We cannot speak to a specific situation that is before the courts, but we are aware of this case and Interior Health does follow up on all reportable incidents with contracted partners.

“Interior Health Licensing and Interior Health Long-Term Care work with Golden Life Management and all care home operators to ensure individuals receive the care they need in a safe environment.”

As for the sexual assault, the relative of the victim was told by staff that the perpetrator was found wandering naked on at least one previous occasion and masturbating in the victim’s room at least once.

Because of the victim’s dementia, the family member said it’s unlikely she remembers the assaults but, looking back, wonders if her comments about not liking it there and not liking some man meant the victim was trying to send a message.

Rosie Roberts was a care aid working on the floor when an earlier incident happened. She ordered the perpetrator out to the room and put a laundry cart across the victim’s door to prevent him going back in. She recorded the incident so the next shift would know about it and why the laundry cart was there.

Complaints were reportedly filed with Interior Health about the man's earlier sexual behaviour but nothing seems to have changed until the assault happened in mid-February. After that, a buzzer was put on the perpetrator’s door that is intended to alert staff if he tries to go out at night. That is, if there are staff close enough to hear it.

As far as the victim’s family member knows, since they can’t visit her mother because of COVID-19 and has to rely on information from staff members, the perpetrator is still in his same room.

“He could come and go anywhere,” the family member said. “Who knows how many other women there are in the building that he’s preyed on?”

He’s is scheduled to make his first appearance in court on Sept. 14.

FILE PHOTO
FILE PHOTO
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

While B.C.’s Seniors Advocate has long tried to raise the issues in long-term care homes, particularly about staffing and wage levels, the issues took on added urgency with COVID-19. The Lynn Valley Care Home, one of the B.C.’s largest and most persistent outbreaks, exposed the issues with fatal consequences. As the outbreak spread, residents were abandoned by many care aids fearing the spread of the virus but also because they had one or more other jobs at care homes they could choose. 

Mackenzie has said when the pandemic has subsided, she expected reform throughout the industry.

“We learned from Lynn Valley,” she said.

“I think we are seeing, now, one more consequence of the fragmented staffing. It’s very difficult, during a pandemic type of outbreak, to put the controls in place that you need in order to control the spread. We are going to be implementing it, but it’s going to take some time to do because of the fragmented system.”

For more information on Golden Life, go here.

For the Interior Health investigation reports, go here.

READ MORE: How B.C. is adapting long-term seniors care on-the-fly in wake of COVID-19

B.C. families hoping changes at seniors care homes will protect against COVID-19, isolation

Vancouver's long-term care homes test for variety of symptoms for COVID-19


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