Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Documents reveal 54 cases of abuse over 2 years at Manitoba agencies

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A caregiver knowingly administered an incorrect dosage of medication. Another touched a client inappropriately. Yet another caregiver skimmed petty cash from a client's bank account.

In all three cases, the victim was a vulnerable person. And in all three cases, the offender was a support worker who was subsequently fired.

According to documents obtained through freedom of information, there were 54 substantiated cases of abuse lodged against residential support workers in Winnipeg group homes in 2009 and 2010.

The incidents involve homes serving adults with intellectual disabilities, though the province would not reveal the names of the homes.

Of the 54 substantiated cases of abuse, 13 resulted in the offending staff member's termination -- yet these are only a fraction of the total allegations against support workers.

Richard Doyle, vice-president of Abilities Manitoba, said most allegations are unsubstantiated. The not-for-profit group represents 62 general supported-living and day-services programs for adults with intellectual disabilities.

"Ninety-nine (per cent of allegations) probably come back unsubstantiated," Doyle said. "There's a saying in this field: There are those who've been accused of abuse and there are those who will be."

Doyle said the perception of abuse is the reason they see so many allegations.

"If you're about to put your hand on a hot stove, and I am across the room and I yell at you, 'Don't touch that stove,' but you think I'm yelling at you and you report that, are you lying? No. Was I being abusive? No," he said.

Almost half of the 54 cases -- 25 of them -- involved physical abuse, ranging from punching to aggressive transfer of the vulnerable person to a bathtub.

"On a weekly basis, somewhere in the province, there is an allegation of physical abuse," said John Leggat, the province's acting executive director of disability programs. "We encourage a response that would reduce the likelihood of that happening again and eliminating it totally."

Fifteen of the 54 cases resulted in further staff training. The results of four cases were unclear, while five were referred to police.

Simaril executive director Daryn Turcotte said it's her residential supported living agency's duty to respect the clients' feelings.

"A woman we support got incredibly upset and called me crying because she felt very disrespected when a staff member used her microwave (oven) without asking," said Turcotte, who also serves as the board secretary at Abilities Manitoba. "It's about how you feel."

The agencies represented by Abilities Manitoba are required by law to follow guidelines in reporting abuse allegations to Family Services and Consumer Affairs, the government branch responsible for licensing residential supported-living facilities.

Turcotte said most agencies have a zero-tolerance abuse policy, and both she and Doyle say they wouldn't hesitate to terminate an employee.

An adult abuse registry will be brought in this spring. Abilities Manitoba had lobbied for one.

"I could have an employee work for me for three months and due to an abuse allegation we terminate their employment, but they could just leave us off their resum©," Turcotte said. "Now with the adult abuse registry, anybody who is charged and convicted will end up on that registry and cannot work in this field anymore."

Emily_wessel@hotmail.com Laurakunzelman@gmail.com

INVESTIGATION PROCESS

THERE are more than 100 agencies in Manitoba ranging in size from Simaril's 10 supported adults to St. Amant Centre, which has more than 200 children and adults. In all, about 5,000 individuals fall within the mandate of the Vulnerable Persons Act.

There are hundreds of support workers employed in these facilities. The support worker who is told about the abuse is obligated to report it to an agency supervisor.

The agency must provide a written incident report to Family Services and Consumer Affairs within 24 hours.

At that point, Family Services takes over and determines whether an investigation is necessary. The investigation involves meetings with the people who made the allegations, the suspected abuser and others. In the case of sexual abuse, the government requires a doctor's examination.

After the independent investigation, Family Services reports its findings and recommendations back to the agency. It is up to the agency to discipline as it sees fit.

 

EXAMPLES OF ABUSE

The care provider emotionally abused the vulnerable person by controlling them and neglecting them by not feeding them.

Staff was being aggressive verbally and physically with the vulnerable person.

A caregiver yelled at a vulnerable person for taking their dentures out.

The vulnerable person was left alone while staff went shopping.

A cash transaction form shows purchases made by a staff member while a vulnerable person was out. Items not typically purchased by the vulnerable person were purchased, such as lottery tickets.

The vulnerable person was hit on the side of the head by staff.

Staff made the vulnerable person strip down to undergarments, then took a picture.

-- Source: Manitoba Family Services and Consumer Affairs

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2012 B2

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