Sienna Senior Living Inc., one of Canada’s largest owners and operators of private, for-profit long-term care homes, has referred a whistle-blower’s allegations of elder abuse in one of its Ontario facilities to police and launched a company-wide review into its policies and practices.
The company based in Markham, Ont., announced on Wednesday evening - just hours before the Ontario government seized control of a third home it owns - that it has reported the complaint to Peel Regional Police and has hired Paul Boniferro, a former Ontario deputy attorney-general, to review its practices.
A health-care worker at Trillium Health Partners deployed to Camilla Care Community during the outbreak lodged the complaint alleging elder abuse at the home, where 67 residents of the 236-bed facility have died of the virus. She said she is speaking on behalf of residents’ loved ones, who are not aware of what’s happening in the home.
“I have witnessed forced feeding, feeding while patient is laying down/sleeping, feeding a deceased patient to a point where the resident needed to be suctioned before the funeral home came,” says a copy of the complaint obtained by The Globe and Mail. “I have witnessed residents being smacked, told to ‘shut up, I am sick of you giving me a hard time.'”
In a wide-ranging statement on Wednesday evening, Sienna said its leadership team recently became aware of the whistle-blower’s “very serious and disturbing" allegations. “We have dedicated resources to investigate the situation and will immediately take action should the allegations prove true."
Sienna said staff who are subjects of the complaint have been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. The company also said it reported the allegations to the Ministry of Long-Term Care.
Peel Constable Bancroft Wright said that, at this point, police have no records of any such complaints.
A spokesperson for Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Long-Term Care, could not be reached for comment.
Sienna owns 83 long-term care and retirement homes in Ontario and British Columbia. None of the residents or staff in its 19 homes in British Columbia have COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In Ontario, 14 of Sienna’s 37 long-term care homes have declared outbreaks. So far, 255 residents and three staff members have died of the illness in those 14 homes.
The government announced on Thursday that it has appointed William Osler Health System as interim manager of Woodbridge Vista Care Community, one of Sienna’s homes, where 18 residents sickened with the virus were hospitalized last weekend and another 17 have died. The government said Woodbridge has not been able to contain the spread of the virus.
The government took control of Camilla Care and Altamont Care Community last week. Altamont was featured in a Canadian Armed Forces report detailing horrific conditions at five long-term care homes in Ontario, ranging from poor infection-control practices to the neglect and abuse of residents.
The whistle-blower sent her allegations about Camilla Care last Friday to Innis Ingram, who staged a two-day hunger strike last week while chained to a tree near the home to draw attention to concerns about how Sienna was managing the outbreak.
“It’s absolutely horrifying,” said Mr. Ingram, whose 78-year-old mother is a resident of the home. “And it’s particularly unacceptable because we live in Canada. Not that it would be acceptable in any other country, but as a Canadian, I like to think that we hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Trillium Health said senior executives became aware of the allegations on Saturday and would conduct an investigation using an external third party “working alongside Sienna,” according to a letter that chief operating officer Karli Farrow sent to family members on Sunday.
The letter said affected residents and their families had been notified of the allegations. In addition, the residents were clinically assessed to “ensure their health and safety.”
“We are deeply concerned and troubled by these allegations and have zero tolerance for this alleged behaviour,” Ms. Farrow wrote. “The care and safety of the residents is our top priority. We want to thank the individual who had the courage to come forward with concerns about the care observed.”
The allegations were reported to the Ministry of Long-Term care on Saturday evening, said Trillium spokeswoman Keeley Rogers.
On Thursday, Sienna said Joanne Dykeman, its executive vice-president of operations, “is no longer with Sienna Senior Living” after making inappropriate comments on Wednesday.
Ms. Dykeman mocked family members and made a reference to “another blood sucking lawsuit” after an online town hall with relatives of residents of Woodbridge Vista Care Community, CBC reported. Ms. Dykeman apparently believed she had ended the call, but participants overheard the remarks.
“While she is deeply regretful of the comments she made yesterday evening, she also understands that they do not meet either her expectations, nor those of our organization,” Sienna said in a statement.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.