Nova Scotia's Department of Health says it does not have the authority to order disciplinary action for two nursing home workers who were found to have abused residents.

Documents obtained by CBC News reveal there were allegations of abuse levelled against two continuing care assistants — Jennifer LeBlanc and Annabelle Stephens — at the Miners' Memorial Manor in Sydney Mines, N.S. 

Co-workers said the two handled residents roughly, neglected to provide proper care and spoke inappropriately to residents. The Department of Health investigated in 2009.

"From that investigation there were certainly founded cases of physical and emotional abuse," said Keith Menzies, the executive director of the continuing care branch for the Department of Health.

He said the department has no mandate to fire or discipline the workers.

"A directive was issued to the home to assure that staff and managers receive the training under the act around reporting requirements but also appropriate training in terms of dealing with individuals with dementia."

After the Department of Health finished its investigation, Miners' Memorial Manor suspended Stephens for five days and fired LeBlanc.

The union fought LeBlanc's firing and an arbitrator who heard the case in 2009 overturned the decision. Instead of firing LeBlanc, arbitrator David MacDonald ordered a six-month suspension without pay from February 2009 to August 2009 and required she take a refresher course in abuse prevention.

Miners' Memorial Manor appealed the arbitrator's decision and took the matter to court. Last week, Justice Patrick Duncan set aside the arbitrator's decision and ordered a rehearing of LeBlanc's case.

Although Stephens is now back at work, LeBlanc is not.

Reports of abuse founded: investigator

According to the complaint summary report written by a Department of Health investigator, LeBlanc was reported to "be physically rough with residents while providing care, handling them by grabbing their clothing, occasionally ripping their clothing and spreading body parts aggressively to put clothing on."

There were also incidents when she was "physically rough towards residents when feeding, rushing through feedings, occasionally injuring their lip with the spoon and by 'shoving' a resident's head back harshly when it begins to droop."

LeBlanc also "left residents in soiled products rather than return them to their room for a change," according to the report.

The allegations of physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect were founded in LeBlanc's case, the report concluded.

Stephens reportedly said she had changed residents' incontinence products, "when in fact she had either not changed the products or simply inserted another soaker sheet, leaving the dirty one underneath it."

The investigator's report also said Stephens left residents in soiled incontinence products and also spoke to residents in an "inappropriate manner."

The allegations of emotional abuse and neglect were founded in Stephens's case, but allegations of physical abuse were unfounded, the report concluded.

"Annabelle Stephens showed remorse for her actions," the investigator wrote.

"However, Jennifer LeBlanc did not, and did not apologize for her behaviour in any way. She showed little insight into the issues and appeared to lack understanding of the seriousness of the allegations."

Not an isolated incident: advocate

David Blinkhorn, the administrator of Miners' Memorial Manor, declined an interview with CBC News. A union representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers also declined to comment on behalf of the continuing care assistants.

Abuse at seniors homes happens across the country, according to Judith Wahl, the executive director of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly in Ontario. The organization provides free legal services to senior citizens.

"Residents have no voice in that labour process," Wahl told CBC News.

"Staff can get disciplined through that labour process and be rehabilitated and then they come back to the very floor [of the] … residents …they abused."

She said the care system for seniors is under stress and has a low priority for health funding.

"Ultimately you need to change the culture of the homes, so that staff feel supported to raise concerns when they see fellow workers not acting appropriately, so that staff don't feel that they're ratting on their fellow workers but they're actually helping the fellow workers improve … the way they work and protect the residents," said Wahl.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story reported both continuing care assistants were back at work. In fact, only Annabelle Stephens went back to work at Miners' Memorial Manor.
    Jan 13, 2011 7:40 AM AT