Violent nursing home deaths in Nova Scotia prompt calls for change

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine says all violent deaths at nursing homes should be publicly disclosed, comments that come after it was revealed there were more such deaths in the province in the last eight years than previously reported.

'I absolutely believe in 100 per cent transparency of any death,' says Health Minister Leo Glavine

Government documents reveal that since 2008, eight people have died violently in Nova Scotia nursing homes. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine says all violent deaths at nursing homes should be publicly disclosed, comments that come after it was revealed there were more such deaths in the province in the last eight years than previously reported. 

Documents obtained by the Canadian Press show that since 2008, eight nursing home residents have died violently at the hands of other residents. Only three of those deaths had been revealed publicly. 

"I believe that information if made public with the caveat of course of protecting privacy, that if there are lessons that can be learned from such incidents," Glavine told reporters Monday afternoon at Province House. "I absolutely believe in 100 per cent transparency of any death." 

Dementia patient care

Health Minister Leo Glavine says violent deaths at nursing homes are reported to his department. (CBC)

"Yes they involved dementia in many cases, but again you know, are the ongoing assessments to make sure that patient [or] that client is in the right place in the nursing home? We need to have constant vigilence."

​There are Alzheimer's wings and dementia areas for patients in nursing homes now, but he wants to know if more can be learned how to keep them safe.

"We average one death a year at a nursing home, but if one death can be prevented that's the course of actions that we need to be taking."

Department aware

Glavine says his department was aware of the deaths prior to the documents being released.

"The department has to be notified of any death in a nursing home that falls outside of the death from illness or palliative care," he said.

Glavine says his department is developing a continuing care strategy for the next five years and says reporting violent patient deaths at nursing homes will eventually have a streamlined protocol.  

Calls to make made nursing homes safer

Nova Scotia's Official Opposition and the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union are calling on the provincial government to make nursing homes safer. 

"This is very serious," said Jamie Baillie, leader of the province's Progressive Conservative Party. 

"We should be requiring nursing homes to report incidents that involve serious injury, that involve a death for sure in a public way. So that people can know whether they're safe or not and then we can deal with making them safe."  

'We should be comfortable that they're going to be safe'   

In an email, an RCMP spokeswoman said the three deaths in their jurisdiction "were not deemed to be criminal in nature and as a result information was not released to the public."

"We would issue a public notification if they were deemed to be criminal homicides and in the public interest," she said.    

So far the RCMP has no plans to change the way it notifies the public about violent deaths in nursing homes. 

Baillie said the governing Liberals should also look at which nursing homes are overcrowded and which facilities may require extra staff. 

"We should make sure that all the steps that we can possibly take are taken to keep seniors in nursing homes safe," said Baillie  

Jamie Baillie, the leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative Party, says a new transparent public reporting system needs to be put in place to record violent deaths in nursing homes. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union agrees, and it said more nurses are needed to do that. 

"This is not acceptable. People have the right to have safe care regardless of where it is in this province," said Janet Hazelton president of the union.

"When we put our family member in there, we should be comfortable that they're going to be safe."   

Ongoing violence

Nurses have been reporting violence in nursing homes for years, according to Hazelton. She said a recent survey highlighted just how bad things have become.

"They'd been hIt, punched, slapped, kicked, spit on," said Hazelton. "This is happening to 25 per cent of our nurses every single week in long-term care."  

'It comes down to money'

She said having more nurses on staff and a formal reporting process would solve the problem. 

"Nurses are able to, in their view, prevent these incidents by assessing properly, medicating if need to," said Hazelton.

"They're educated to assess and properly treat these residents when they get agitated. This happens because of confusion, Alzheimer's, people get agitated and they strike out.

"It comes down to money, I mean it's that simple. It's funding. These homes want to deliver safe care, the employers want to deliver safe care, but they're only funded for one hour in 24 for registered staff."     

She believes the government, unions, and the owners of the nursing homes need to come together and work on a solution.  

With files from Sabrina Fabian and Radio Canada, Tom Murphy