Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Care-home practices questioned

Bethania staff have concerns

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Staff at a personal-care home run by a manager whose contract has been declared illegal by the province are speaking out, claiming their facility cuts corners in ways that threaten patient safety.

Two employees at the Pembina Place Mennonite Personal Care Home said in interviews this week that due to faulty equipment, it is difficult to weigh patients, monitor their blood pressure and even bathe them.

They say staffing is tight and when a nurse or nurse's aide calls in sick, they are seldom replaced. If staff fill out a heavy workload form to be sent to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), they are threatened with discipline, said the workers, who refused to provide their names for fear of reprisal.

Pembina Place, located on Pembina Highway, is one of two personal-care homes operated by the Bethania Group Personal Care Homes. The other facility is located on Concordia Avenue.

Last month, following a government audit, the provincial Health Department declared a new contract negotiated by Bethania's CEO, Ray Koop, with the organization violated provincial rules freezing executive pay. Koop, who was earning $160,000 a year in 2012, accepted a pre-retirement payment worth nearly half his salary on July 31, retired on Aug. 1, started collecting a pension and was rehired on Aug. 2 at a higher (undisclosed) salary.

The two employees said they heard nothing of Koop's job-status changes until Bethania's dispute with the province hit the news in late March.

They wonder where the organization got the money to fatten his pay packet when Koop continually claims the organization has no money and is deep in debt.

"He's always saying we're in a huge deficit and we can't afford new equipment," said one of the employees. "We're just wondering how they have money to give him a raise and we don't even have money for a blood-pressure machine. You do one blood pressure (reading) and the machine is dead. You have to go plug it in."

There have also been continual problems with lifts used to ease patients into bathtubs -- forcing staff to transport clients to a different floor. And faulty scales prevent staff from performing required monthly patient weigh-ins.

Bethania didn't have money to replace a broken blind in a resident's room that had become a safety concern, the staff members said.

Neither does it replace a staff member funded specially by the WRHA to work one on one with an aggressive patient when that staffer is away. The patient has "hurt staff and other residents" in the past. "It's a huge safety concern," one of the employees said.

In an email to the Free Press late Wednesday, Koop denied some of the employees' allegations outright and said other concerns had already been addressed or soon will be.

"In the past four years we have spent over $30,000 to replace all six of the aging lifts and scales," he wrote. A blood-pressure machine was found to need a new battery, and one was ordered and installed, he said.

"The lift for one of the bathtubs has been reported to have problems recently. The service company has been out a number of times to repair it," Koop said.

He acknowledged blinds on many windows are not working properly and said work is progressing to replace them.

He also denied allegations staff have been threatened or disciplined for completing heavy workload forms.

And he said replacing workers who have called in sick "is a balance between providing safe and effective care and the ongoing budgetary challenges." He noted Bethania has recently had operating deficits "primarily due to the fact that we have paid more in direct-care staffing than has been funded."

The province had given Bethania until this Tuesday to void the new contract with Koop and return any excess payments to the government. The Bethania Group receives $9.5 million in provincial funding annually.

Earlier this week, Bethania made a settlement proposal the province is now weighing. Health Minister Theresa Oswald said Tuesday she is "encouraged" by the offer. She refused to release details of the proposal, as did Bethania's lawyer.

Meanwhile, the two employees said Bethania's management has circulated a petition to government enunciating the "importance to our community of maintaining the Bethania Personal Care Home as a faith-based institution." (Government had threatened to remove the board of directors if it failed to void Koop's contract.) The two employees said staff have been pressured to sign the document. But as of Tuesday no one had.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 B1

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