Toronto·CBC Investigates

GTA hospital didn't notify police about allegations seniors had been sexually assaulted

A Toronto-area hospital didn't alert police after allegations were made that a staff member sexually assaulted at least five elderly patients, CBC News has learned.

Personal support worker was fired and later charged by York Regional Police

A personal support worker who was fired from Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital has been charged with sexually assaulting an elderly female patient. (CBC)

A Toronto-area hospital didn't alert police after allegations were made that a staff member sexually assaulted at least five elderly patients, CBC News has learned. Instead, the Richmond Hill, Ont., hospital fired the man, a personal support worker, and he went on to find a similar job at another health-care facility.

York Regional Police charged the man with one count of sexual assault at the end of January after members of the alleged victim's family filed a report. The alleged assault is believed to have taken place between August and October of 2015. 

Shojaadin Mohammad-Zadeh, 51, was charged with one count of sexual assault at the end of January in connection with an incident at a Richmond Hill, Ont., hospital. (York Regional Police)

The daughter of one of the complainants said Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital told her family about an alleged assault and encouraged them to contact police. She said she was astounded that hospital staff didn't notify police themselves. 

"I asked them, 'Did you notify police, did you file a report?' They said, 'No. We are not mandated to,'" said the woman, who CBC News is identifying only as T.C. to protect her mother's identity. 

"It's beyond comprehension. How could you be aware of something that occurred and not notify the authorities?"

The hospital fired Shojaadin Mohammad Zadeh, 51, in October after carrying out an internal investigation. The man, who also goes by Soja Zadeh, worked at the hospital for 17 months performing tasks like bringing meals to elderly patients and helping bathe them.

Police documents obtained by CBC News also state the hospital waited one month after firing the personal support worker before contacting the family. 

The hospital, in a statement to CBC News that contradicts police, said it began notifying families of patients about the sexual assault allegations when Zadeh was fired.

York Regional Police filed two documents called Information to Obtain Search Warrants, known as ITOs, compelling the hospital to provide patient and staff records. ITOs are not evidence, but an outline of what police believe occurred. They are based on police interviews with staff and the hospital's internal investigation. 

In an ITO written by York Regional Police Const. Stephanie Couture, she says another personal support worker told her she witnessed Zadeh groping patients on several occasions over months, including fondling an elderly woman's groin while washing her in a hospital shower. 

Elderly patients voiced concern

The ITOs contain what police say are allegations made by five different women. 

In one instance, Couture says she was told another female patient complained to a Mackenzie Health employee that Zadeh had sexually touched her while changing her diaper. 

Police said an employee told investigators that the patient screamed, "I don't want him to come near me anymore, he's an animal." 

Police also allege in the ITOs that Zadeh withheld food from the elderly patients.  

Although the ITO names five patients, police have only laid a charge in relation to one patient, T.C.'s mother. 

Police also said they were informed by hospital management that two of the complainants have since died

The ITOs say staff didn't report any of the incidents to hospital management or the patients' families. 

The hospital launched an investigation after receiving a complaint against the personal support worker. Mackenzie Health eventually told Zadeh he was terminated for behaviour that was "sexual and inappropriate in nature," according to Const. Couture.

Police said more elderly women have come forward with similar complaints about Zadeh, including two who were patients at a different facility. 

'How could this happen?'

T.C. told CBC News her family is still struggling in the wake of the incident.

"You stand there and you look at your mum and wonder how could this happen?" she said.

"We're still reeling from it. We want justice. This can't happen to other people."

Melina Cormier, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said in a statement to CBC News, "Mackenzie Health takes this matter very seriously. The safety and care of our patients is our top priority."

According to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, only long-term care facilities like old-age homes are mandated to report incidents of sexual assault or other forms of patient abuse to police.

Hospitals like Mackenzie Health are permitted to set their own policies regarding reporting suspected crimes against patients.

"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.

Some information contained in court documents and obtained by CBC News reveals investigators believe a hospital manager minimized the nature of the incidents.

In one of the ITOs, Const. Couture wrote she believed a manager "refused to acknowledge [the assaults] were sexual in nature because she is fearful of civil liability."

Investigators also claim that a hospital director attempted to persuade an officer "to not contact [victims' families] as it would jeopardize the reputation of the hospital."

Sexual assault reporting

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the situation at Mackenzie Health is being reviewed and that "we are looking at the issue of sex abuse by health-care professionals."

"I will take the advice of those who are looking at this on my behalf," he said.

As it stands, hospitals are only required to report gunshot wounds to police, or notify them in cases involving imminent danger.

Hoskins wouldn't comment on whether hospitals should also be mandated to report sexual assault crimes.

If you have any information on this story or any other that you want investigated contact John Lancaster.