Family angry late loved one's abuse allegations not included in charges against care home staff
Dianna Klassen says police told her they couldn't lay charges after her father died in January
The family of a Winnipeg senior who lived at Oakview Place say they're distressed and angry that the alleged abuse their father suffered isn't included in the police charges against two health-care aides.
On Tuesday, Winnipeg police announced two women, ages 49 and 36, were facing charges of assault related to inappropriate physical actions against five residents of Extendicare Oakview Place between August 2021 and January 2022.
The investigation followed allegations they had abused 15 residents — including David Middleton, who died in January at the age of 92.
When Middleton's daughter, Dianna Klassen, heard through the media about the charges Tuesday afternoon, she immediately called the police investigator assigned to her father's case.
"He came right out and said what happened to my dad … of all the allegations, his was the most severe from a sexual abuse point of view," she said.
But she said the investigator told her since her dad had died and couldn't attest to his experience, police wouldn't be able to lay charges.
"I'm angry. My dad lived out the last few months of his life being abused and there's going to be no justice for that? My dad was a kind, caring, gentle man and to have had those things happen to him is just awful," she said.
Tuesday's charges come after the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority revealed in June that two whistleblowers came forward with allegations two care aides had abused 15 residents at the privately owned care home.
The allegations were first brought to the attention of local Extendicare management through a whistleblower in February, but the WRHA was not informed until it was approached directly by another whistleblower on June 10, triggering the police and provincial investigations.
The 49-year-old suspect is charged with three counts of assault, while the 36-year-old is charged with two counts. Both were released from custody with a number of conditions.
Gail Johnson, whose 91-year-old mother was identified as another victim of alleged abuse at Oakview Place, says her family was pleased to hear about the charges.
"We are hopeful that moving forward with the Protection of Persons in Care Office's investigation will lead to Extendicare being held accountable and responsible for the alleged lack of action by the former Oakview Place administration to ensure future safety of all residents, as well as swift actions and adherence to policies should future concerns arise regarding treatment and care of residents," she said in a statement.
Klassen also cited the need for accountability.
"I want them to face the music for what they did. Because I'm sure, right at this point in time, their only remorse is that they got caught," said Klassen.
"The government needs to get involved. They need to have greater protections for the people who live there."
Better staffing, training, teamwork
A researcher who has studied long-term care internationally says protections could take many forms, but addressing issues of understaffing — which have plagued Oakview Place — is key.
"Now the staff also have to have training, and they need the support to work in teams, and they need full-time jobs," said Pat Armstrong, a professor emeritus of sociology at York University.
"Full-time jobs are really important for staff to know each other, support each other, but so they also know the residents," which can help with creating routines and avoiding conflict, she said.
Armstrong said her studies have also found abuse rates in care homes were much lower in Sweden and Norway, where staffing levels are much higher and staff have more autonomy than in Canada.
She said seniors in those countries also have a higher will to move into long-term care homes to receive the support they need for their daily lives. She said stories about abuse in care homes can prompt the knee-jerk response to shut the homes down, but that could do more harm than good.
"We can't close them down. We have to support them," she said.
Province to investigate
Under the Protections for Persons in Care Act, the province will also launch its own investigation into the allegations of abuse at Oakview Place. Klassen said she hopes that will bring her family the answers they're looking for and also plans on following the case through court.
She said despite the suffering she believes her father endured at the end of his life, the abuse allegations do not cloud her family's impression of the majority of staff of Oakview Place.
"They are kind, caring, diligent, work hard," she said.
"There are so many, many kind and caring and well-meaning people who work there."