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

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March 11, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Recent stories about Retirement Concepts not following the rules and being taken over by health authorities has cast a light on problems that are rampant within the entire seniors care industry.

Retirement Concepts is B.C.’s largest seniors care home operator with 20 facilities in B.C. including in Summerland, Kamloops and Williams Lake.

Summerland Seniors Village was put under administrative control last month after about a dozen complaints were filed and dozens of rule violations were discovered during inspections.

Yet few of the complaints were exposed before a lawyer trying to certify a class action law suit against Retirement Concepts collected more than a dozen affidavits alleging negligence at some of their homes that may have led to deaths. He's looking for more dating back to 2002.

And B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel MacKenzie has said problems range beyond Retirement Concepts.

“Every care facility in the province is going to give you a horror story,” she told iNFOnews.ca. “It’s proportionality and where there’s bigger clusters and a pattern. Certainly, there is a cluster around Retirement Concepts. That is very clear. And then the other cluster that is very clear is that the for-profit care homes are not delivering, on average, the same amount of care hours as the not-for-profit sector.”

Pat McCoy has some insights into why so few are speaking out.

In 2012, she said her mother, Maria Louisa Bonaldi, was “dropped” while a resident of Summerland Seniors Village. At that time it was owned by Retirement Concepts but under a different parent company.

McCoy was notified by phone that there had been “a slight incident,” she told iNFOnews.ca.

Two days later, a care aid working there, who knew her family, called McCoy, she says.

“They were concerned because mom was not eating well and was moaning a lot,” McCoy said. “So, off I drove. Well she’s on painkillers, no doctor had looked at her.”

At the hospital it was discovered that her mother had a broken femur. Bonaldi never recovered from the surgery needed to repair her leg.

“She had a slow death,” McCoy said. “I think she lasted a week and a half, just gurgling and choking. She couldn’t bounce back from surgery, Disgusting. Disgraceful.”

McCoy demanded an incident report be filed. It was finally written a couple of days after the fall and backdated.

She fought to get answers to what had really happened and why but failed to get anywhere.

And, while she wasn’t alone in her concerns about the level of care in Summerland, no one else came forward with their own complaints.

“When this happened with ours – ours was extreme,” McCoy said. “First of all, it was pretty devastating and I’m a pretty vocal person and our family knows everybody — born and raised in Summerland. It was a huge thing and we knew a lot of people. We were sending a lot of letters and documents out.

“A lot of people weren’t like that. They can’t be bothered. I’d get phone calls at home. I almost became like an advocate for people because they’d call me and go ‘oh Pat, I’ve got to tell you about our story.’ OK. Great. Give it to me in writing and I’ll make sure I turn it on to the right people. You think? No.

“One little guy - I know his son, he’s still around town - they found him (the father) four hours later. He fell on his floor and he was bleeding. I couldn’t get a real letter out of him (the son). He said ‘use my name and mention it.’ Too many people are too weak kneed. Canadians are complacent.”

A few months later, McCoy’s father died after being left in his room for three days after falling. This was in the residential care section and his meals were just left outside his room.

McCoy did go public at that time but investigations found the operator had done nothing wrong.

Her concern is that, given the stories of what is happening now, “nothing dramatic has changed.”

There have been others – staff and relatives – who have contacted iNFOnews.ca. They don’t want their names used for fear of retribution or, sometimes, they don't even want the facility they’re talking about identified.

Many talk about others who have concerns but won’t speak up out of the same fear.

They say that Interior Health is not doing its job in representing them by, for one thing, letting care facilities know when inspections are going to be held.

“We relied on that system,” McCoy said. “I thought they would let us know if something was wrong. We assumed he (her father) was having his lunches and dinners and socializing. Terrible. They got away with that too and Interior Health just let that go under the rug.

It can be so extreme that family members can be accused of bullying staff and banned from visiting.

CBC TV’s Marketplace aired a segment recently highlighting the fact that some family members – in various provinces across the country – had been banned for months from entering the care homes or seeing their elderly relatives because they were advocating for their loved ones.

So, how is your relative being treated in his or her care home? Let us know at news@iNFOnews.ca.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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