A Toronto-area hospital that cited patient privacy for its failure to inform police about in-house sexual assault allegations now says it could have taken action.

CBC News reported Wednesday that at least five elderly patients claimed to be sexually assaulted by an employee at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Police have charged a former personal support worker at the hospital.

'Privacy legislation does not prevent us from reporting a crime to the police.' - Mackenzie Health

The daughter of one of the complainants said her mother was abused by a staff member in a hospital shower. The woman, who CBC News is identifying only as T.C. to protect her mother's identity, said hospital officials told her they were not mandated to file a report with police. She said she contacted police herself.

"Due to patient privacy legislation, the hospital cannot reveal personal details of a patient's health record or experience to the police, but it can encourage and support the patient and/or substitute decision-maker in reporting the concerns directly to police," the hospital told CBC News on Wednesday.

But in a statement issued Thursday, the hospital said it can act on behalf of the patient in cases of suspected abuse.

Patient consent not required

"Mackenzie Health is aware that when a crime is committed, privacy legislation does not prevent us from reporting a crime to the police," the statement said.

york police andy pattenden

York Regional Police Const. Andy Pattenden said all five complainants are elderly women. (CBC)

Hospital officials also said they wanted to clarify the sequence of events.

"In this instance, when the first patient came forward to report allegations of an incidence of sexual assault, the patient clearly indicated that they did not wish to report this or share any information with police.

"We recognize that there are permitted disclosures under privacy legislation that do not require patient consent to eliminate or reduce a significant risk of harm," the statement said. "We considered this; however, the police were already involved."

The hospital said it placed the worker on a leave of absence while it conducted an internal investigation.

The hospital fired Shojaadin Mohammad Zadeh, 51, last October. The man, who also goes by Soja Zadeh, worked at the facility for 17 months performing tasks like bringing meals to elderly patients and helping bathe them. He went on to find a similar job at another health-care facility.

Five complainants

First Nations Water 20160301

'We're determined that whether it's workplaces, whether it's campuses, wherever it is, that there will be policies and there will be reporting of those incidents,' Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday. (Christophe Ena/The Associated Press)

Police search warrant requests contain what police say are allegations against Zadeh made by five different women.

According to police, one hospital employee told authorities she saw the suspect groping patients on several occasions.

One patient allegedly told a hospital worker: "I don't want him to come near me anymore. He's an animal."

York Regional Police Const. Andy Pattenden said all of the complainants are elderly women.

Health Minister launches review

Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province takes cases like this seriously.

"We're determined that whether it's workplaces, whether it's campuses, wherever it is, that there will be policies and there will be reporting of those incidents," Wynne said Thursday.

We're determined that ... wherever it is, that there will be policies and there will be reporting of those incidents.' - Premier Kathleen Wynne

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said a review is underway.

"We are looking at the issue of sexual abuse by health care professionals, and I will take the advice of those who are looking at this on my behalf," he said Wednesday.

Hospital officials declined to be interviewed on camera. 

Zadeh was charged in January with one count of sexual assault relating to one patient — T.C's mother. The alleged offence is believed to have taken place between August and October of 2015.

With files from John Lancaster, Jennifer Fowler