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A still image taken from hidden-carmera video footage that shows how staff at St. Joseph’s at Fleming care home treated resident Hellen MacDonald.

Video image

An 85-year-old woman stricken with dementia depended on the staff at an Ontario long-term care facility to look after her.

Instead, as a hidden video camera showed, a staff member appeared to taunt Hellen MacDonald with a rag smeared with her own feces. Another blew his nose on her clean bed sheets. And male and female co-workers canoodled at her bedside. On another occasion, the camera caught an elderly male resident walking into Ms. MacDonald's room, opening her bedside drawer and helping himself to some of her belongings.

The images are as stunning for the mistreatment they chronicle as they are for the ensemble cast captured on film. Four workers at the St. Joseph's at Fleming home in Peterborough, Ont., were caught on video, which CHEX Television broadcast Thursday.

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"It's so disrespectful, it's heartbreaking," said Ms. MacDonald's son, Camille Parent, 55, who had the hidden camera installed in his mother's room in April in response to a broken hip and black eye she suffered at the hands of another resident in February. "The dignity and respect they talk about there, it's just words. It looks good on paper and it's not there."

A page on the home's website reads: "At St. Joseph's at Fleming, we believe that care and compassion are essential in fostering sanctity of life. That's why our primary concern is to create a home for our residents where they can be given the best possible care in an environment of personal worth and dignity."

Alan Cavell, the home's chief executive officer, left a voicemail message in response to a reporter's inquiry saying that his home was taking the incident "very seriously" and that the workers caught on film had been suspended pending investigations being conducted by local police and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which funds the home.

In a phone interview Friday, Mr. Parent described how he had the camera concealed in a tiny black box taped inconspicuously to the side of a television set in his mother's room. The box, he explained, resembled a remote to the television and apparently went undetected by workers.

Mr. Parent said the camera was activated by motion and recorded footage, but no audio, over the course of a month. He said he had additional footage that was not aired that showed workers abusing his mother.

"I've been told [the workers] were suspended," Mr. Parent said. "Does that mean they're going to come back, or are they really gone? They need to be charged or fired."

According to ministry records available online, the home had been inspected by the province 11 times in the past 28 months. The results of a twelfth inspection has yet to be posted, according to the ministry.

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Six of the inspections were generated by reports of "critical incidents," including residents having been found wandering outside the home at night. Four of the inspections were prompted by complaints, including one resident attacking another.

Mr. Parent said he dismantled the camera on May 14 and requested a meeting with ministry bureaucrats in Peterborough to show them the footage he had collected. A meeting took place two days later, but he said ministry officials declined to view the video.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Deb Matthews said the minister connected with Mr. Parent on Friday afternoon, shortly before the minister issued a statement on the matter.

"We have a zero tolerance for abuse in our long-term care homes," Ms. Matthews said. "Our loved ones are entitled to nothing less than the best care. While I can't yet comment further on this case, I can assure you my ministry officials are investigating."

The ministry launched a task force on resident care and safety in November 2011 in response to media reports and public concern about incidents of abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities. One of the jobs of the task force is to implement $10-million worth of training focusing on resident safety and preventing abuse.

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