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The Globe and Mail

Families skeptical over federal inspection of Canada’s largest veterans facility

Dorothy Burnell, 86, talks to her husband George Burnell, 92, at Sunnybrook's Veterans Centre in Toronto where he lives on Sunday, Oct.28, 2012. Several families have concerns about the level of care their relatives are receiving. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel


Relatives concerned about the care their frail loved ones are receiving at Canada's largest veterans facility said Friday they were pleased Ottawa had sent in an inspector.

At the same time, they said they were skeptical about the effect the move would have on care levels at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre.

"I think it's great, but now they're going to be prepared for it and everything is going to be bustling clean and everything is going to be all fine," said Rodney Burnell, whose ailing father George has been at Sunnybrook for three years.

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"This inspector should go without them knowing. They're going to be put on a big show."

On Thursday, The Canadian Press outlined several concerns raised by relatives, who said they had been stonewalled by Sunnybrook in trying to have them addressed.

Among the issues raised were claims of vets being neglected or forced to endure unsanitary conditions, delays in bathing and feeding, soiled sheets, dead mice in rooms, and constant room and caregiver changes.

In response, the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said he was immediately dispatching a "senior official" to look into the complaints.

Sunnybrook spokesman Craig DuHamel said inspectors visited the unit on Friday.

"They didn't express any concerns," Mr. DuHamel said. "I think they were satisfied with the care we're providing."

Ottawa's action came amid frustration by some families at what they call an ongoing lack of accountability by a facility that resembles a regulatory orphan.

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Home to 500 aging Second World War and Korean War vets, the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre is unique in Canada in that it receives both provincial and federal funding, but reports only to Veterans Affairs Canada on budgetary and care-quality matters.

"We're the only one left in Canada," said Dorothy Ferguson, the centre's operations director.

"[Veterans Affairs] has been gradually transitioning their residential care to the provinces."

Even though it operates in Ontario – which has a nursing-home inspection regimen and regulations enacted in 2007 related to long-term care standards – the veterans facility does not fall under the province's scope.

"The ministry has no involvement in any oversight," said David Jensen, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health.

But Sunnybrook insists it adheres to the Ontario rules and meets or exceeds quality standards.

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