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The Ontario government appointed Trillium Health Partners to temporarily take over management of Camilla Care Community in Mississauga on May 27 – people visit crosses outside the Camilla Care as Innis Ingram, right, sits chained to a tree seen here on May 29, 2020.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The whistle-blower whose allegations of elder abuse at an Ontario nursing home have led to a criminal investigation says she had a responsibility to speak up.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, the health care worker said she raised the alarm because there was no outside scrutiny of Camilla Care Community in Mississauga.

The military, which was deployed to five other Ontario homes, issued a report two weeks ago detailing alleged neglect and abuse that Premier Doug Ford called “horrific.” “I wanted to make sure that people knew about Camilla as well, not just the five homes that the military had reported on,” the whistle-blower said.

Peel Regional Police confirmed on the weekend that it is in the early stages of investigating the allegations.

The whistle-blower, whom The Globe agreed to grant confidentiality because she fears professional repercussions, was part of a Trillium Health Partners team sent in late April to help deal with a COVID-19 outbreak at the home. The 236-bed facility, where 67 residents have died of the virus, is owned by Sienna Senior Living Inc., one of Canada’s largest owners and operators of private, for-profit long-term care homes.

Over a one-month period, the worker says she witnessed two incidents of staff hitting residents and one time when a worker pinched a resident’s nose. In addition, she said she saw many incidents of verbal abuse and forced feeding, including when individuals were not fully awake.

The whistle-blower also said she saw the aftermath of a disturbing incident involving a resident who was dying of COVID-19 last month. Despite instructions not to give the man anything to eat or drink, a worker fed him. After he died, food had to be suctioned from his mouth before the funeral home came to collect his body.

“Everyone was just kind of not surprised, which alarmed me,” she said.

The whistle-blower said she initially chalked up workers’ poor treatment of residents to caregiver fatigue and fears of catching COVID-19. But after a week or so, she said she realized it was more systemic. She said senior Sienna staff were aware, but appeared to turn a blind eye.

The Ontario government appointed Trillium, a hospital network, to temporarily take over management of Camilla Care on May 27. Three days later, Sienna notified Peel Regional Police of the alleged abuse, said Cailin Rodgers, a spokeswoman for Trillium.

Trillium has also hired Benard and Associates, a Cambridge, Ont., firm founded by former police officer and nurse Dean Benard, to conduct an internal investigation.

Four staff members of Camilla Care and one person who is a staff member at the hospital have been placed on leave while the investigation takes place, she said. Trillium has also put in place a temporary management team led by Stephanie Joyce, vice-president of patient care services at the hospital, and appointed Tamara Wallington, the hospital’s medical director of primary care, as acting medical director of the home.

Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton received a copy of the whistle-blower’s complaint on May 27, spokeswoman Gillian Sloggett confirmed.

Sienna owns and operates 70 long-term care and retirement homes in Ontario and British Columbia and manages another 13 facilities. In Ontario, 14 of Sienna’s 37 long-term care homes have active outbreaks of COVID-19. So far, 261 of its residents and three staff members have died of the illness, according to the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care.

In addition to Camilla Care, the government has appointed hospitals to temporarily manage two other homes owned by Sienna: Altamont Care Community, which was featured in the military report, and Woodbridge Vista Care Community, where 18 residents sickened with the virus were hospitalized late last month.

The Markham, Ont.-based company, previously known as Leisureworld Senior Care Corp., has been operating since 1972.

In 2010, it was renamed Sienna Senior Living and went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Dino Chiesa, a commercial real estate developer, became chair of the board that same year. Mr. Chiesa is also chair of CreateTO, the City of Toronto’s real estate agency. He could not be reached for comment.

Sienna announced last week that it has hired Paul Boniferro, a former Ontario deputy attorney-general, to conduct a companywide review of its policies and practices. Sienna’s shares closed at $11.06 on Friday, up 68 cents.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article quoted Trillium Health Partners, saying five staff members at Camilla Care Community had been placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a whistle-blower’s allegations of elder abuse at the seniors’ home. Trillium has clarified that statement, saying one of the five individuals on leave is a staff member at the hospital.

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