Nursing homes no place for young adults with disabilities, says Berwick family
'If somebody wants to hurt me, they could. I can't stop them,' says Victoria Levack
A 25-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who lives at a Halifax nursing home says she's been choked, scratched, bruised and harassed by other patients, and says such facilities are no place for a young person with disabilities.
"I'm spastic. I don't have a lot of strength and agility," Victoria Levack told CBC Radio's Mainstreet. "I'm unable to physically defend myself. If somebody wants to hurt me, they could. I can't stop them."
Levack goes to Dalhousie University and hosts a weekly radio show at CKDU. She moved away from her hometown of Berwick to get a taste of city life. Because her mobility is limited, she moved into the Arborstone Enhanced Care nursing home.
But Mark Levack, her father, said the family was "sold a bill of goods" when the nursing home told them his daughter would be placed in a young adult wing.
"It's funny if it weren't so tragic," he said.
Violence a problem
"The elder population is increasing and the number of people with dementia is increasing. I know that's an issue that has to be dealt with. Those people need proper care. But should they really be on a floor with a vital, young 25-year-old woman who's just trying to live her life and get a university degree?"
Victoria Levack said what makes her particularly uncomfortable is the number of people with dementia or brain injuries living on her floor who are prone to violent behaviour. She said she has been assaulted three times.
"The first year I was there, I had a roommate with some sort of cognitive delay," she said. "I was wearing my glasses. My glasses at the time had a strap. She came up from behind me, grabbed the strap and proceeded to choke me."
'Grabbed my arm tight'
Levack said it was a terrifying incident and while it was happening, she wondered if she would pass out. Luckily, the strap broke and she escaped.
She said the same woman assaulted her in the hallway a second time by grabbing her from behind. The third assault happened after the same woman was removed as her roommate.
"She came into my room and without saying anything, started to stalk me to the back of the room. I backed up," she said. "She stuck me to the back wall, grabbed my arm tight enough to leave bruises and scratched my face."
Levack said she reported all incidents to staff. There were staff around when they happened, she said, but "there's not enough to watch everything."
In another case, Levack said a man ran his hand up her leg and tried to grab her between her legs. A nurse intervened, she said.
Separate facility needed
Victoria Levack said she chose to move to Arborstone, which is run by Shannex, on her own accord because she wanted to move to Halifax. But a nursing home is not the right place, she said.
The Levacks believe there should be a separate facility for young people in similar situations, but they don't have much faith that there's any political will to fix the problem.
A spokesperson for Shannex said in an emailed statement that they "agree that young adults living in long-term care is not ideal."
"This concept was introduced as a response to a need that existed in our community and we are open to new strategies," the statement said.
There are 75 people between the ages of 18 and 44 who are living in nursing homes across Nova Scotia, according to Carolyn Maxwell, the interim executive director of risk mitigation and continuing care at the Department of Health.
Home for young adults discussed
Maxwell said the province is working on a new five-year provincial continuing care strategy. Part of that includes a research project involving discussions between Shannex, officials at Dalhousie University and the lobby group Independence Now Nova Scotia — which was co-founded by Victoria Levack.
The idea of a special care home just for young adults is being discussed, Maxwell said, but it's unclear where such a facility should be located.
All complaints of sexual assault or harassment are investigated, Maxwell said.
"There needs to be assessment of not only what the situation has been, but also there needs to be focus on the individual who may be abusing and what is happening with that individual as well," she said.
'I hold the government accountable'
"It is very, very important to us that our residents feel safe and that there is confidence by their family that these residents are receiving care and that they are safe when they leave them."
Mark Levack said he has a meeting on Thursday with officials from Shannex. He also said the province should take some responsibility.
"The province is the funder. The province is the major decision maker. I hold the government accountable," he said.