Widow describes husband's 'catastrophic' ordeal at city-run long-term care home

As Mayor Jim Watson vows to get to the bottom of incidents plaguing municipal long-term care homes, one woman is sharing details of the "catastrophic" injuries her husband ended up with last winter.

Rita Bisson said her husband was left in a pool of blood at Garry J. Armstrong Home

Rita Bisson says her husband Francois suffered severe bruising and cuts during a fall while he lived at the city-run Garry J. Armstrong Home.

As Ottawa's mayor vows to get to the bottom of incidents plaguing municipal long-term care homes, one woman is sharing details of the "catastrophic" injuries her husband ended up with last winter.

Rita Bisson said her husband François suffered a painful fall on Dec. 20, 2016, at the city-run Garry J. Armstrong Home that left him with bruises, cuts and a black eye.

The ordeal, she said, has also left her suffering from sleepless nights. 

"The personal care worker left him [and went] to tend to other people, apparently. And he fell over and toppled over in a pool of blood on the floor," Bisson told CBC News on Wednesday.

"The personal worker came back, found him there, panicked, dragged him to bed instead of putting him into the lift," she said. "[They] cleaned the blood [on the floor] but there was still blood in his bedsheets."

The incident involving Bisson's husband — who was paralyzed, suffered from dementia, and died in May 2017 — is the sort of incident that has spurred the province's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to issue a blanket order to the City of Ottawa, demanding it come up with plans to improve the way it runs its care homes.

'He looked miserable but he couldn't talk'

The day after her husband's fall, Bisson said she was told by someone at Garry J. Armstrong Home that her husband's injuries were not severe and there was no need to visit.

Telephone calls were not returned. There was a veil of secrecy.- Rita Bisson

But when she and her children and grandchildren went to visit more than a week later, what they saw was "catastrophic." 

Her husband had a black eye and could not hold up his head, Bisson said. 

"His face was swollen on the right side and he had a cut on his nose," she said. "He looked miserable, but he couldn't talk."

In the weeks and months that followed, Bisson said she wrote several city officials about what happened — but heard very little.

"Telephone calls were not returned. There was a veil of secrecy. But my husband had no first aid from the night it happened, to the next day when they found him," Bisson said. 

"He must have screamed. How did he feel?" 

Eight months later, Bisson said she still doesn't know for sure what happened that night.

Mayor to hold town halls 

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Jim Watson told reporters he would hold a series of town halls in city-run homes to hear from both residents and their families.

Watson said he had also asked city manager Steve Kanellakos to report to council by Sept. 21 about what's being done to comply with the ministry's order.

Mayor Jim Watson says he's deeply concerned by recent incidents involving the city's long-term care homes. (CBC)

The order requires the city to come up with a plan to improve the safety and care of patients in its long-term care facilities. It was issued in July, following several investigations into neglect and abuse since 2015 at three of the city's four homes, and was necessary given "the scope and severity of the non-compliances identified in inspections."

The city runs the Peter D. Clark Centre, Centre d'Accueil Champlain, the Garry J. Armstrong Home and Carleton Lodge. Of the four facilities, only Carleton Lodge has not been hit with non-compliance orders in the past three years, according to the order.

While the mayor didn't promise more money to deal with the issues, he did say that better training and possibly more staff would be needed.

'Deeply concerned'

Both Watson and Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the city's community and protective services committee, issued a memo to members of city council Wednesday setting out what they wanted to hear in Kanellakos's report.

The memo also said they were "deeply concerned" by the recent incidents.

Another incident at Garry J. Armstrong Home captured national attention earlier this year when video surfaced of a care worker repeatedly striking a resident.

The worker in the video, Jie Xiao, later pleaded guilty to assault.

At the time, Janice Burelle, the city's general manager of community and social services, addressed the assault in a letter to the mayor and council members.

"I deeply regret that one of our residents was subjected to this incident. Rest assured, the safety and well-being of all of our residents is our number one priority," Burelle wrote.