Concerns around patient care are being raised at a long-term care centre in central Alberta where two staff members were charged with the assault of an 88-year-old woman.
Police laid charges late last month against a 53-year-old woman from Killam, Alta., and a 39-year-old woman from Strome, Alta., after receiving a report of elder abuse at the Killam Health Care Centre.
The patient was allegedly assaulted on Aug. 20 by two health-care workers in the long-term care centre, according to court records.
But now, both the family of a former resident and a woman who worked there during that period are speaking out about things they witnessed at the facility.
They both say staffing levels were insufficient to ensure the safety of residents and workers.
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On Tuesday morning, it was standing room only inside the one-room provincial courthouse in the centre of Killam, population 989. Ten women occupying the first two rows — including one taking notes, whose mother is a resident of the Killam centre — were all there in support of the alleged victim's daughter, Carol Kinzer.
When the judge called the case, only one of the accused, from the nearby village of Strome, rose from the opposite side of the gallery. She asked for more time to obtain and review the evidence,before making a beeline to the exit and declining further comment.
Her co-accused, a long-time Killam resident, was not in court.
There was an audible scoff from the gallery as the judge granted more time at the request of the defence, adjourning until Oct. 3.
Outside, as the women hugged and offered each other words of support, Kinzer, a town councillor who also works part-time at the post office across the street, spoke publicly for the first time since police laid charges.
"The only thing that we can say at this time is it's terrible that we ever came to this point," said Kinzer. "And just to know that not only our family but the entire community is devastated by this event."
But it appears the criminal charges are not the only concerns being raised at the centre.
"You're not giving anyone the proper care because you physically don't have enough time to do that," said the seniors centre worker, who CBC has agreed not to identify.
'You're not giving anyone the proper care because you physically don't have enough time to do that' - Health-care worker
Nights were staffed by one nurse and one health-care aide for more than 40 residents, many with high needs, she said, echoing concerns from Debbie Dorey, whose mother was a resident at the centre.
She said the majority of people required full care and regular checks due to incontinence, an inability to walk, or risk of falling or roaming.
"And if something's happening at one end of the facility, and you're at the total opposite end, you would never even know until you get down there," said the worker.
She said she was not given adequate training to look after some residents with more extreme needs, such as dementia, bipolar disorder and suicidal tendencies. But complaints to management about stressful, hellish working conditions proved fruitless, she added.
The health-care worker questioned whether provincial staffing standards and funding are adequate.
"They don't give you what you need to take care of people," said the woman, who urged the province to fully assess the adequacy of staffing, training and funding at the centre.
"The government doesn't give you what you need to do your job."
Facility meets staffing standards
A spokesperson for Covenant Health, which runs the Killam Health Care Centre, said she could not comment on whether funding levels are adequate to ensure patient and worker safety.
"I'm not prepared to comment on that at this time," said Sheli Murphy, senior operating officer of rural services. "We are meeting the required levels of staffing and we're funded the same way as any other long-term care provider in the province."
Murphy said staff are qualified to appropriately respond to resident needs. They are provided with ongoing training, mentorship and supports around stress management, she said.
The hospital operator is conducting its own internal investigation into the criminal charges.
The health worker who spoke to CBC was among several people who emphasized that most staff at the Killam centre provide excellent and compassionate care, despite difficult working conditions, which will now be compounded by the charges.
Dorey said she was so worried about her mother Diane Simons's care at the centre last year that she slept at the continuing-care unit for three months before finally pulling her out. Each night she would curl up on a fold-out plastic chair next to her mom's bed, feet hanging off the end, Dorey recalled.
Dorey and her sister-in-law Sandy McIvor described a long list of problems related to the care of Simons, who had terminal lung cancer and required an oxygen tank for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, including the repeated discovery of circular pink welts on Simons's bottom from her potty chair.
"She would either soil herself or be found on the floor beside the bed trying to get to the bathroom on her own," said McIvor.
'It broke me. It broke me and my brother so bad.' - Debbie Dorey, daughter of former resident
On one occasion, the women said they arrived with Simons's ex-husband and spotted her through the window of her first-floor unit.
Simons was alone in full view of passers-by, sitting on her potty chair, her white pants around her knees.
"I was just humiliated for her," Dorey said, adding the ongoing situation provoked a family feud that still hasn't healed and has caused financial hardship. "It broke me. It broke me and my brother so bad."
She and her sister-in-law said they complained to management and the pastor who works at the Killam centre but, as far as they know, nothing came of it.
Resident safety is priority
The Covenant Health agency said it could not discuss individual cases, citing privacy reasons. But Murphy said all complaints are investigated, with key findings reported back to families and residents.
"The safety and well-being of those we serve is our number one priority," Murphy said, adding families are urged to provide feedback, especially when they're not happy, to improve care. "And we do consider families and the residents a very important part of that team."
Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman provided a brief statement by email.
"All patients at Alberta health facilities deserve to feel safe and protected," she wrote. "Seniors are among the most vulnerable individuals being cared for and I expect residents of all long-term care facilities to be treated with respect and dignity.
"Given the RCMP's criminal investigation, I will refrain from any further comment as the matter is now before the courts."
In March 2016, Dorey pulled her mother from the Killam centre, just over three months after moving in.
They spent the last three months of Simons's life at her mother's bungalow watching her favourite show, Murdoch Mysteries, and at the nearby garden centre, literally smelling the red roses.
Dorey said she hopes speaking out can improve the lives of the residents still living at the long-term care unit, like the woman who she repeatedly helped find her room, or another lady who liked to hold her hand.
Last week, health officials met with families of residents at the long-term care unit to inform them of the charges and answer any questions.
Nancy Ambler had some. Her father, Fred LeGear, a butcher from Forestburg, Alta. lived in the Killam centre for 17 years. As far as her family could tell, he was always treated well, but now they can't help but wonder since the charges were laid.
"While we're very concerned about the care he may have received from those two individuals, we also know that there a lot of kind and caring nurses at the Killam hospital and for them we're really grateful."
The criminal charges against the two workers have not been proven in court.