WARNING: This story contains disturbing details about allegations of abuse.
Families of people who live in a privately owned Winnipeg personal care home want to know why two care aides were allowed to work for months after allegations were brought forward that they had abused 15 residents.
A woman whose 92-year-old mother lives at Oakview Place, which is owned by Extendicare, was told just hours before that allegation became public that her mother may have been one of the residents whistleblowers say were abused.
“They haven’t told us exactly what it is that went on…. We’re in the dark,” said the daughter, whom CBC News has agreed not to name. “We don’t know if it’s verbal, we don’t know if it’s physical, we don’t know if it’s sexual.”
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said at a news conference Tuesday that it is investigating the allegations of abuse by two care aides at the care home in Winnipeg’s Sturgeon Heights neighbourhood. The province and police are also investigating.
The care aides are currently on paid leave.
The allegations were first brought to local Extendicare management by a whistleblower in February. However, the WRHA was not informed until it was approached directly by another whistleblower on June 10, a news release says.
The daughter of the 92-year-old resident accuses Extendicare of covering up the abuse allegations.
“I’m disgusted, I’m sad, I’m upset for my mom. We put trust in this company.”
WATCH | Allegations of abuse prompt police to investigate two care aides:
Sandra Goers, the company’s recently named Manitoba regional director and director of operational quality for Western Canada, said at the Tuesday news conference that the company offered its apology to residents, staff and family members, and had taken a number of steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
Another woman, whom CBC News has agreed not to name, received a call Monday night from someone from the personal care home notifying her that her father, who died earlier this year, may have been abused as well.
“It’s ripping me apart that he had to go through that in his last days of life, and that we didn’t know,” she said.
The woman said her dad started to change about a year ago and would get aggressive when he was being changed. He would yell, “Don’t touch me there, don’t touch me there.”
The family thought perhaps staff weren’t changing his undergarments as often as they should, but now she wonders if he might have been sexually abused, because he complained of pain in his rear end.
She was not told what kind of abuse her father suffered but is haunted by the thought that his last days were marred in that way.
She’s outraged that although a whistleblower came forward in February, the accused care aides continued to work at the home until June.
“The fact they kept those people on staff, I’m so mad about that.”
The daughter of the 92-year-old woman who still lives at the home said she’s grateful to the whistleblowers for trying to protect the seniors.
“These employees that came forward, they were brave enough to say something, and as a family member, we’re thankful that they did,” she said.
“Some of these residents can’t speak for themselves. They have dementia or Alzheimer’s or mobility issues.”
Neither Extendicare nor the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said when the alleged abuse started, because the Winnipeg Police Service has asked that certain details remain private as police investigate.
Spokesperson Const. Jay Murray confirmed Winnipeg police are investigating allegations of abuse at the care home, but says no further information is available during the active investigation.
Underfunded, understaffed sector: union
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson says staff are overworked at personal care homes across the province, including at Oakview Place.
She says years ago, her union made a recommendation to the province that funding and staffing be made available to ensure people in personal care homes get at least 4.1 hours of care per day.
At this time in Manitoba, the standard is 3.6 hours of care per day, but Jackson says that’s sometimes not met, and some residents get as little as three hours of care per day.
“We know … [4.1 hours is] a sweet spot. We know that’s where residents do best, where they tend to thrive,” she said.
“And that [recommendation] came out in 2017. Absolutely no one has heeded that message.”
She said the dangers of a lack of care were demonstrated by the COVID-19 outbreak at Maples Long Term Care Home, which started on Oct. 20, 2020, and was declared over on Jan. 12, 2021.
A total of 56 deaths were linked to the outbreak, including eight that happened in a 48-hour period, resulting in a rapid response team being deployed.
“It makes me very sad that we’ve got this history of the losses in long-term care and the mishandling and the underfunding in long term care, and we’ve learned nothing from that history,” Jackson said.
Earlier this year, the province pledged $15 million toward addressing the recommendations from an external review of the Maples outbreak. It also announced $16 million to address staff shortages in personal care homes.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon declined CBC’s request for an interview on Wednesday.