A CBC News investigation has found that Sunview Manor special care home in Saint John was investigated by the Department of Social Development, which confirmed several operating violations at the home for persons with intellectual disabilities.

hl-charlene pitre

Charlene Pitre was laid off with four other employees at Sunview Manor special care home after raising concerns about how residents were treated. (CBC)

The special care home was cited for improper administration of medication, mismanagement of funds and the use of profanity and yelling in the presence of residents in the home.

The mistreatment was brought to the attention of the Department of Social Development in May 2013, by five workers at the home. They were all laid off within a week.

'Like she would say to them `Go to your F-ing room,' but she would use the word.' - Charlene Pitre, former worker at Sunview Manor special care home

"Like she would say to them 'Go to your F-ing room,' but she would use the word. And she would tell them to F-off, shut the hell up," said Charlene Pitre, who once managed the home and led the complaints process with the other workers.

Pitre and the four others alleged the home’s operator, Carla Cline, was disrespectful to residents and administered improper care.

One worker, Darenda Smith, wrote in a statement to Social Development last May that on December 2, 2012, Cline instructed her to give the sedative drug Ativan to a resident who did not have a prescription for the drug. She wrote, the "[resident] was acting out both verbally (swearing and acting belligerent towards myself and the other residents) and physically (slamming doors and chairs) and I was concerned for the well being of all the others in the home at the time."

hl-sunview-manor

Sunview Manor in Saint John. (CBC)

"After informing Carla of the events in the house, she instructed me to give the resident a PRN [ Pro re nata, or use-as-needed drug]

. At that time I reminded Carla that the PRN was not a medication prescribed to her by her doctor and that I didn't think that I should give it to her. At this time Carla directed me to give the resident the PRN, so I did."

Pitre says she tried to speak with the operator to change the situation, but got nowhere. She says it was just a week after they brought their concerns to Social Development, that all five whistleblowers were laid off.

"[Cline] came back from vacation on May 17 [2013] and come in with walking papers and fired the whole five of us."

CBC News has called Cline multiple times to request an interview but has not received any response. CBC News has obtained a copy of the layoff slip given to one worker, which states, "Due to restructureing (sic) of the business your services will no longer be needed at Sunview Manor."

After a 10-month investigation, Social Development validated concerns similar to those raised by the workers, though the department did not confirm with CBC News whether any specific allegations were validated. The department ordered Cline, among other things, not to curse and yell:

  • "Operator is not to use profanity in the presence of resident" nor "yell and use profanity when speaking with residents."
  • "Medication records are to be kept in accordance with the standards" and "Medication is to be administered in accordance with the physician’s order"

Whistleblowers feel punished

Pitre says she and the others have been punished for raising the concerns. She says that in addition to losing their jobs, with no recourse through whistleblower legislation, they’ve struggled to regain any licensing or employment in special care.

At least two families pulled their relatives from the home. Pitre took one former Sunview Manor resident, Doreena Justason, into her care in her own home.

If you have information about this, or any other story, please get in touch: nbinvestigates@cbc.ca

Pitre says she doesn’t have the money to care for Justason in the best way she’d like, since the province has not approved her as a community placement home. Pitre says Social Development is now denying her application for a licence due to a criminal record that dates back nearly 40 years. She says she was guilty of shoplifting and mischief. But she says the department gave her a pass and did allow her to work in special care, until she raised the complaints.

She says the constant state of limbo since she complained a year ago has been hard on Justason as well.

"She’s asking ‘When are they [Social Development] going to help us? When are they going to help me?’ I say ‘Honey they’re working on it. They’re working on it.’ She doesn’t understand that. Doreena’s been crying, depressed, upset … not because she’s in my home but because she doesn’t know if she’s going to have to leave my home."

Pitre says she can't afford to continue subsidizing Justason, who only receives about $700 a month on social assistance. If approved under the assistance program, Pitre says Justason could have received $1400 a month or more.

Another laid-off worker, Sherry Jeffers, who is taking care of another former resident in her home, is also still waiting on a community placement approval.

'It's not us that’s suffering. It’s the clients' - Charlene Pitre, former special care home worker

Greta Wooden, a third staffer, who also laid a complaint, never returned to working in a special care home and is now employed at a pizza restaurant.

But Pitre and the others say despite the trouble they feel this has brought, they would do it all again.

"It's not us that’s suffering. It’s the clients," said Pitre. “If you see any type of abuse — anything, verbal, physical, mental, you are to report it. If you see any type of mishappenings in the home where you’re at, you are to report it. Because you’re just as bad as that person if you do not."

Krista Carr with the New Brunswick Association for Community Living says there should be better protection for workers in special care homes.

"I just can’t stress enough that these are individuals who are often completely reliant and have very few visitors, often times, or no family, and all they have to rely on is the system," said Carr.

'I think it is a very brave step to work within a particular place and be that concerned about the practices or the things that are happening there, to bring forward a complaint.' - Krista Carr, New Brunswick Association for Community Living

"I think it is a very brave step to work within a particular place and be that concerned about the practices or the things that are happening there, to bring forward a complaint. There needs to be built into the system some protection for those individuals … There really does need to be protection for those people who are brave enough because they care about the individuals living there that step out of that box and bring forward something that is very concerning to them."