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Sexual assault of vulnerable senior by B.C. care aide highlights gaps in long-term care, advocates say

A care aide in Creston, B.C., has been sentenced to one year of house arrest after he sexually assaulted a vulnerable resident of a long-term care home in her private room. The case highlights gaps in the care and protection of vulnerable seniors and the need for better policies and training at long-term care facilities, according to seniors' advocates.

Sexual abuse caught on camera after resident's husband became concerned about her care, lawsuit says

A care aide pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault in connection with an incident at Swan Valley Lodge in Creston, B.C., in January 2020. (Google Maps)

A B.C. care aide has been sentenced to one year of house arrest for sexually assaulting a woman at the Swan Valley Lodge in Creston, a long-term care facility run by the Interior Health Authority.

The assault in January 2020 was caught on a camera in the victim's private room at the care home, according to a civil lawsuit her husband has filed against the worker and the health authority. 

"There isn't a day that goes by that he does not think about what took place at the care facility," said Keri Grenier, the husband's lawyer. 

"This is going to be something that is eating at him for the rest of his life."

Advocates say the case highlights the gaps in the care and protection of vulnerable seniors and the need for better policies and training at such facilities. 

"Without a doubt there are gaps," said Benedicte Schoepflin, executive director with the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

"From this particular case to everything that we have seen and heard about long-term care for the past couple of years, I think it is very clear that there is a lot of work to be done to improve not just the safety but the general well-being of people who are living in long-term care."

Conditional sentence and probation

CBC News is not naming the woman or her husband because of a court-ordered publication ban to protect her identity. 

None of the claims in the civil lawsuit has been proven in court.

However, the care aide, Arthur Bloch, 58, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault last summer in connection with the incident at Swan Valley Lodge.

Last week, a provincial court judge handed Bloch a one-year conditional sentence followed by one year of probation and ordered him to be placed on the national sex offender registry for 10 years. 

Interior Health refused to answer specific questions about the case but said in a statement a sexual assault conviction would be cause for termination. A spokesperson said it couldn't comment on the civil lawsuit because it is before the courts.

Cases of sexual assault in long-term care facilities that result in a criminal conviction are rare, said Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.'s seniors advocate.

B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie says although rare, sexual assault of vulnerable seniors in long-term care homes does happen. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"It was tragic, obviously, for the resident and traumatic. It would have also been traumatic for the family members, Mackenzie said.

"It also would have been traumatic for the co-workers who had worked with this person and would have been devastated to realize that what he did and what he was capable of doing."

Mackenzie said B.C. has a registry of health-care assistants to ensure any workers found to have abused a patient would not be able to work at publicly funded health-care facilities.

463 reports of alleged abuse over 5 years

There are 17,000 care aides or community health workers employed in the province, according to data provided by the B.C. Care Aide and Community Health Worker Registry.

Over the past five years, there were 463 reported cases of alleged abuse, including financial or physical abuse or neglect, against workers on the registry. Eighty-seven workers were expelled.

Tracking sexual assault in long-term care is challenging because many cases of it are never reported, researchers say. 

Researcher Amy Perione says staff at long-term care homes need to be trained to pick up on non-verbal signals that a vulnerable senior may be expressing through behaviour if they are experiencing sexual assault victimization. (CBC)

Amy Peirone, a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Regina, co-authored a learning brief on sexual assault in residential care homes. 

'Vastly underreported'

Peirone highlighted one study in Canada that found 12 per cent of sexual assault cases involving adults older than 50 occurred in long-term care homes, but added that sexual abuse of seniors is not often reported or even discussed.

"Sexual victimization, especially in long-term care facilities, is the least likely type of assault to be observed or suspected, so we know that these [cases] are vastly underreported and underestimated."

Peirone pointed to ageist and sexist beliefs that older women are asexual and therefore safeguarded against sexual violence as one factor but also generational beliefs that sexuality is a private matter as reasons elder sexual assault is not often disclosed or reported. 

"And then when you think about the high rates of women and individuals living with cognitive impairments in long-term care facilities, we have to recognize that disclosure might not always be verbal," she said.

Employee training and clear policies

Better training of staff in long-term care to recognize patients' behavioural changes that might be consistent with sexual abuse victimization is needed, Peirone said.

Benedicte Schoepflin, executive director of the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, says long-term care homes must have clear policies around disclosing and reporting concerning behaviour in order to identify cases of sexual assault. (CBC)

Apart from training, Schoepflin said, clear policies around patients' rights and what consent means are also crucial.

"Clear policies, first of all, that any form of abuse will not be tolerated," she said.

"Second of all, what are the steps to report if you are a staff member and you suspect something is off? Who do you talk to? There needs to be really, really clear policies in place."

Back in Creston, the woman who was sexually assaulted in her room by the care aide died before her attacker was brought to justice, Grenier said. 

According to Schoepflin, such an outcome is not uncommon. In many cases, by the time there is a verdict or a resolution in a sexual abuse case of a vulnerable elder, the victim is no longer alive. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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