The private company that runs an Okanagan seniors home at the centre of abuse allegations acknowledges there have been problems at several of its facilities, but says a crisis in B.C. health care is to blame.
"We do the best we can with what we have. Health care is in a crisis," the company's director of patient care, Lesley Karmazinuk told the CBC's Rick Cluff on Wednesday morning.
Karmazinuk said care homes are dealing with patients with more complex needs than even three years ago, and that needs to be addressed by health authorities.
"Either we need less complex people being brought into our facilities, or we need more dollars to hire more staff," said Karmazinuk.
"We have a very limited budget which we get from the health authority, and within that we provide as much medical care as we can," she said.
"I believe our staffing is safe — but could we use more staff? Absolutely," said Karmazinuk.
The company is actively lobbying the provincial government to address its concerns, she said.
On Tuesday the company confirmed that one employee at the Summerland Seniors Village was fired and two others resigned after taking and distributing nude photographs of seniors in their care.
When asked how the company monitors the staff hired to care for vulnerable seniors, Karmazinuk said there are numerous checks in place to ensure they are properly qualified and training is kept up to date.
"Care aides are vetted before they are hired and any inappropriate conduct is addressed immediately, but when isolated problems crop up, they are immediately addressed," said Karmazinuk.
But despite safeguards, isolated incidents will occur, she acknowledged.
"We have people looking after people. You can't always control people," she said.
Not an isolated incident
But the complaints about staff taking nude photographs are not the only ones being made against Retirement Concepts this week.
The Interior Health Authority said it found five cases of abuse or neglect against seniors at the Summerland Seniors Village in 2006, and it's investigating another case right now.
NDP health critic Adrian Dix pointed to previous complaints about Retirement Concepts care homes in Summerland, Victoria, Williams Lake and Maple Ridge as evidence the time has come for a full-scale investigation of the company's facilities.
"We need an investigation into what's going on at Retirement Concepts, because that's going to tell us what we need to do across British Columbia to raise the standard of care for seniors," Dix told CBC reporter Jeff Davies on Tuesday.
Health Minister George Abbott rejected that idea, saying Retirement Concepts has had a few problems at a few care homes, but most of their facilities have earned a clean bill of conduct.
"If we have a concern, or we have a pattern that shows non-compliance with contractual terms … we will be all over them," said Abbott.
But Dix said Abbott is ignoring the problem and that the evidence is clear the government's privatization of seniors homes has caused the standards of care to decline, so that B.C. now has the lowest standard of care in Western Canada.
"These are major contributors to the Liberal party, and I think we should treat them like they treat any other citizen," said Dix.
"Seniors care is one of the most important things we provide in British Columbia. It's clear the standards aren't adequate, and it's clear the government is not taking the steps to make sure they are. You see it in Summerland, Maple Ridge. This is a pattern of problems," said Dix.
Karmazinuk said her company's 14 facilities across B.C. are performing well when compared with those run by health authorities.
Families and patients express concerns
Meanwhile, patients and families are coming forward with more concerns about the level of care at the company facilities.
Desmond Loan and his wife moved into the Summerland Seniors Village shortly after it opened in February 2006. They paid $5,000 a month for accommodation, care and meals.
But the care home was understaffed, the care aides were poorly trained and the meals were almost inedible, Loan said.
After two weeks the couple packed their bags and left.
"Well, we made a run for it. We went home." Loan told CBC reporter Gary Symons on Tuesday.
Members of a Maple Ridge family agree, saying their 83-year-old mother has been getting atrocious care at the Golden Ears Seniors Village run by Retirement Concepts.
Joanna Vos has Alzheimer's disease, is deaf and nearly blind and has lived at the home for 2½ years.
Her son Rhamona Vos-Browning said his mother and others in the home are often ignored, waiting hours to get their soiled clothes cleaned.
"Outright neglect, if not bordering on abuse — people were being left in soiled diapers and soiled underclothes for hours and hours and begging to be changed," Vos-Browning told CBC reporter Robert Zimmerman on Tuesday.
The family filed an official complaint with the Fraser Health Authority last summer, but few changes were made, according to daughter Tina Vos.
"After we bring the issue up and then they're monitored, they actually improved it somewhat, and then a month or two go by and things start to slip again," said Vos.
Retirement Concepts said the company has added staff at the Golden Ears facility, and residents will soon move to a new state of the art building with a special wing for dementia patients.
But Vos said she thinks the root cause of the problem may be a fundamental problem with the company's approach to seniors care.
"If it was me I would want to be looked after a little bit better than that; I care about those people and I [would] hope they would [too], and they're not just doing it for money," said Vos.