CBC MARKETPLACE: HOME » RETIREMENT
'Law of the jungle' regulates retirement
Broadcast: March 14, 2000 | Producer:
Harvey Berkal; Research: Laura Boast
Werner Gumprich is shopping
for a retirement home
Between living in your own home
and requiring a nursing home there's a murky area of seniors' homes called "retirement homes." They're
meant for seniors who need just a little help with meals and maybe some
But in Canada, retirement homes are poorly regulated
and in some of them, life for elderly, vulnerable people has become a nightmare.
But there are things you can do to avoid bad retirement homes.
82, Werner Gumprich is shopping for a retirement home. He's about to become
one of the tens of thousands of Canadians living in one. But he must choose
Other seniors have found poor care, neglect - even abuse
- in places that promised they were good homes.
Tens of thousands of Canadians live in
In Quebec, public
hearings are being held into abuse in retirement homes and nursing homes.
The Quebec Human Rights Commission has been told of excessive
use of drugs to make old people compliant and of restraints used to confine
them when they are not.
a home in Toronto, three caregivers were charged with stealing thousands
of dollars from the seniors' bank accounts.
In Gander Bay, Newfoundland,
there's a different problem: elderly people who find they lack the
basic protection that most tenants have, after a new seniors' complex fails
for financial reasons. The residents are threatened with sudden eviction.
Such problems shouldn't
surprise us. Seniors in retirement homes across Canada have very little
Nick Boychuk says life was hell in a Toronto
retirement home called Bloor West Village
Three provinces -Ontario, Alberta and Quebec- with 70
per cent of the country's population, essentially have no regulations governing
In other provinces, the regulations are often inadequate
and frequently poorly enforced. Neglect and abuse has been going on for
Consider the story of 70-year-old Nick Boychuk. He says life was hell in a Toronto
retirement home called Bloor West Village.
to get beaten up and sometimes I was thinking, 'When is he going to jump
at me and do the same to me or other people.'"
"Frequently, I heard the screams
of beaten people but I was afraid to leave my room," Teofil
Skupien told a Polish newspaper
Teofil Skupien, 81, lived in the same home as Boychuk.
Skupien claimed he
was severely beaten by one of the men who worked at Bloor West
He suffered a badly bruised face and some broken
Skupien wrote about
his ordeal in the local Polish newspaper.
I heard the screams of beaten people but I was afraid to leave my room."
many complaints to various government agencies, criminal charges were
After many complaints, criminal charges
were laid against one of the owners of the Bloor West Village
Ramnarine Khelawon, one of the owners of Bloor West Village,
is charged with numerous counts of serious assaults on residents.
In a retirement
home nine years ago, professor of social work Ernie Lightman conducted
a one-man inquiry for the Ontario government into the state of retirement
homes in the province.
"I went in
expecting some awful stuff. I found stuff far worse than I expected.
I was deeply depressed at the end of it."
But his recommendations
for protecting seniors were largely ignored by the government.
"There's a law of the jungle that operates here," says
Ernie Lightman of retirement home regulations in Ontario
"There's a law of the jungle that operates here.
There are no inspectors, there's no licensing. An operator can do
anything he can get away with.
an inquest where there were 30 or 40 very vulnerable adults, very frail
seniors in a home in a small town in Ontario. There was at night
one teenaged staff person on duty.
"This kid fell asleep. One of the
residents, who had some form of dementia, managed to open a fire
door, walked out in the cold in her nightgown and froze to death.
not required to have any staff people. They could close up the place
and go home at 5:00 and they would be breaking no law."
In the fall of 2000, the Toronto Star
newspaper reported shocking conditions in the retirement homes of Canada's
biggest city. The mayor, Mel Lastman, felt he had to do something
about the problem.
Workers answering the phones at the
City of Toronto office
The City of Toronto set up a temporary telephone hotline
to hear complaints about retirement homes.
But the program is due to end this month
because there aren't enough inspectors.
"Since October 1999, when
the hotline started up, we have received up to 620 calls," says
inspector Jim Chan.
"The types of concerns and complaints coming in relate
to sanitation, lack of personal care services, a few calls relating to
physical or verbal abuse."
Inspector Jim Chan says Toronto has received a few calls relating
to physical or verbal abuse
the inspectors are acting in a regulatory vacuum. They have very limited
powers to correct anything.
A call to the hotline led Marketplace
to a sad story of neglect: the Magdalena's Rest Home in Toronto.
point in 1999, the house was ridiculously overcrowded, with even
the living room and dining room jammed packed with beds.
A total of
17 elderly people lived there.
Yvonne Neti still works at
the home and says conditions were awful.
"It was filthy. The food,
most of the time the food was expired," says Yvonne Neti of
the Magdalena Rest Home
"It was filthy. The food, most of the time
the food was expired."
Owners of the home obtained
food donations from the Salvation Army - food they fed to elderly people
who were paying them between $850 and $1400 a month for room and board
at Magdalena's Rest Home.
And there wasn't enough staff
to look after the residents. At night there was only one person on duty
to care for 17 frail people.
come in the morning, when we start at 9:00," says Neti. "Sometimes a
few of the residents are soiled in the clothes, bed wet.
to do if you have a complaint about a home »
After charges were laid, Magdalena
Rest Home Inc. was repossessed by the bank and cleaned up
"There's one lady we have, she's a
person doesn't like to have wet clothes on. Sometime we come and meet
her naked, without no clothes on. And this in winter
The city laid charges against
Magdalena Rest Home Inc., claiming it was filthy.
The owners of the house
abandoned the property four months ago. The bank repossessed it and
cleaned it up.
Krytiuk owns a well-run retirement home, called Golden Orchards.
That's where Nick Boychuk now lives, after leaving the abuse at
Bloor West Village.
"It's obvious we do need more
regulation," says Mila Krytiuk
Boychuk says Golden Orchards is like heaven.
But Krytiuk believes we shouldn't rely on the goodwill of the
people who run retirement homes.
Krytiuk says homes should be carefully regulated and inspected.
"I think that if you take
a look at what's happening right now, with so many seniors being placed
in abusive situations, it's obvious we do need more regulation."
It's interesting that government
licenses, inspects and makes sure there's a high standard in day care
centres. But not at the other end of life.
"Maybe it's a function
of our view of elders as being disposable," says Ernie Lightman.
"We warehouse them, we put them out of public
eye and then it's just not our problem anymore. It's a devaluing
of seniors by virtue of our not caring enough to offer them serious
Brenda Elliott is a member of the Ontario government. She's just
reported to cabinet on conditions faced by Ontario's elderly. But
will there be regulation of Ontario's retirement homes?
"It was not communicated
to us that there was a wish for rest and retirement homes to be heavily
regulated," Elliott says.
So with governments passing
the buck, what can you do to avoid problem homes? If you're looking for
a retirement home where you or a relative will live you must do an extremely
thorough check of any home you're considering.
- Get as much information
as you can. Visit the home, make an unannounced visit at night and
see if there's anybody there. See how many staff there are, see if
the staff are awake. Ask about the services that are provided.
- Ask if they give you a written contract, what does
that written contract cover? What does it not cover? What do they charge
for the extras? Is there a written list that you can walk away with
that says a tray in bed is so many dollars, or assistance with a bath
is so many dollars? It's those extras that can often be most problematic.
- Retirement home owner Mila
Krytiuk recommends that you view the home, arrive at meal time, inspect
the meals and, most of all, discuss with the other seniors living
there how they feel about the home. How do they find the food, how
do they find the medical care, the personal hygiene?
Professor Ernie Lightman
says you should look at the nature of the home: is it run by a for-profit
or not-for-profit? If it's run by a not-for-profit, your chances are
better, but there are no guarantees. Look for a not-for-profit or
a church-based home first before going to the for-profit sector, because
they're not answering to stockholders. They don't have a need to maximize
If you're looking for a retirement
home, get as much information as you can about the facility
is a marketplace, Lightman says. Potential residents are buying a commodity
that in some ways is no different than buying a car or buying a new shirt.
Let the buyer beware.
"We look at many countries
that have much lower standards and we shake our heads at it," says
Mila Krytiuk. "And then this happens to seniors here in Canada.
Something's got be changed."
a home: Things to consider »