Manitoba

Winnipeg care home didn't report whistleblower's allegation 15 residents were abused: health authority

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says allegations that two care aides had abused 15 residents of a privately owned Winnipeg personal care home came to light thanks to two whistleblowers, but that the authority only learned of the allegations four months after the facility was made aware.

WRHA says it didn't learn of alleged abuse by aides until 2nd whistleblower came forward

At least 15 residents of Extendicare Oakview Place were victims of alleged abuse, the WRHA says. (CBC)

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says allegations that two care aides had abused 15 residents of a privately owned Winnipeg personal care home came to light thanks to two whistleblowers, but that the authority only learned of the allegations four months after the facility was made aware.

The abuse allegedly took place at Extendicare Oakview Place in Winnipeg's Sturgeon Heights neighbourhood, the health authority said Tuesday afternoon.

The allegations were first brought to attention of local Extendicare management through a whistleblower in February, the health authority said.

However, the WRHA was not informed until it was approached directly by another whistleblower on June 10, according to a news release. 

"We are deeply disturbed and disappointed by these serious allegations and the process the facility initially took to investigate the concerns," Gina Trinidad, the health authority's chief operating officer for community health services and long-term care, said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Trinidad says the Winnipeg Police Service is in the early stages of a criminal investigation and the care aides have been put on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

A blue sign reading "Oakview Place Extendicare" is shown on the grounds of a brick care home building.
Extendicare's Oakview Place personal care home on Ness Avenue in Winnipeg is shown in a June 21, 2022, photo. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Police have instructed the health authority not to release details about the matter so as not to compromise the criminal investigation, a WRHA spokesperson said.

As such, no details were released about what kind of mistreatment the residents may have suffered, or what the abuse allegations entail. It's also not clear when the abuse is alleged to have started.

The province of Manitoba's Protection for Persons in Care Office, which investigates reports of abuse, will also discuss a further review.

In February, only one family was notified of the allegations, said Sandra Goers, who recently became Extendicare's Manitoba regional director and director of operational quality for Western Canada.

Neither the health authority nor the police were alerted, which is a breach of Extendicare's protocol, she said at the news conference.

"It's completely unacceptable that this did not take place, and for that we unreservedly apologize to the residents, their families and to the WRHA," Goers said. "You deserved better than this and we will do better."

Steps taken: Extendicare

Goers said since the allegations were made, she's been appointed Extendicare's regional director for Manitoba and a new experienced senior administrator has been hired.

Staff at all seven of Manitoba's Extendicare-owned homes will be retrained on the company's abuse and neglect policies and reminded of its whistleblower program, she said.

Twelve families of residents who were allegedly abused have been contacted, but efforts to contact three others haven't been successful, said Goers. Meetings have been scheduled with all residents, families and staff, she said.

The WRHA has conducted two unannounced visits to Oakview Place to ensure the safety and well-being of the residents in care and assess the operations and support of staff, Trinidad said. 

"The results have generally been positive and what we expect," she said.

In 2021, the Saskatchewan government ended its relationship with Extendicare and permanently took over operations at all five of the company's homes in that province.

That came after a review of the Saskatchewan homes prompted by an ombudsman report, which found Extendicare was "woefully unprepared" for a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 39 residents at a Regina home in the winter of 2020.

Trinidad says Extendicare's licence to operate in Manitoba is not under review at this time, but the allegations have been reported to Manitoba Health's licensing and compliance branch.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says Extendicare's licence needs to be reviewed. He also said the allegations underscore the need for a seniors' advocate in Manitoba.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto, called the allegations egregious. He said it's rare to hear of so many cases of abuse occurring simultaneously.

"The fact that there was such a failure of local leadership, the fact that it required not one but two separate staff to bring this to the attention to make sure the end of this occurred and that appropriate actions were taken, is concerning to me," he said. "How many other things went on in this home over the years due to poor leadership?"

Sinha said fewer than 10 per cent of people who experience some form of abuse as an older person are likely or able to report it.

"A lot of this unfortunately just reminds us that these are particularly vulnerable people at high risk of abuse, and when abuse can occur in these environments it sadly can go on for periods undetected and affect many people too," he said.

Beverly Dueck's mother lived at Extendicare Oakview Place for a few years until her death in 2020. She said staff always seemed rushed and were expected to care for more patients than was possible.

"They did the best they could with what they had, yes, but you cannot have one head nurse on a floor when you have over 120 people," she said.

"I saw neglect or lack of time or not having the staff to care for them properly. I'm very curious, what are they calling abuse? I have no idea."

At least 15 residents of Extendicare Oakview Place were victims of alleged abuse, the WRHA says.

3 months ago
Duration 2:06
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says allegations that two care aides had abused 15 residents of a privately owned Winnipeg personal care home came to light thanks to two whistleblowers, but that the authority only learned of the allegations four months after the facility was made aware.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

With files from Erin Brohman

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