Amid an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of abuse at a Winnipeg long-term care home, the NDP is calling on the province to immediately review the facility’s operation licence.
On Wednesday, Wab Kinew, leader of the Opposition, and NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara wrote to Manitoba Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon.
"A review should examine the failure of processes that took place here and provide assurance that all residents and their families can expect proper and dignified care at this facility," they wrote of the reported issues at Extendicare’s Oakview Place.
The NDP request comes a day after allegations of mistreatment were made public.
On Tuesday, representatives from Extendicare and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority held a virtual news conference to announce two health-care aides at Oakview Place are accused of mistreating 15 residents of the home.
Extendicare, the Ontario-based corporation that owns the 245-bed home, knew about the abuse allegations since February, but did not immediately report them to authorities and only notified one of the 15 families affected.
Other staff at the facility had to come forward as whistleblowers and notified the WRHA before the incidents were reported to police.
The two employees were placed on paid leave pending the results of the investigations. No details about the type or circumstances of the alleged abuse have been announced.
Kinew described the allegations and the delayed way they came to light as a "betrayal of trust."
The NDP leader said he was surprised the provincial government hasn’t yet announced a review of the St. James personal care home operations.
"I understand that the government might not want to immediately pass judgment, but at the very least, they should be launching a review because there are certainly red flags with this company in other jurisdictions and what’s being alleged here is very, very troubling," Kinew said Wednesday.
He alluded to a provincial takeover of all Extendicare facilities in Saskatchewan prompted by an ombudsman’s report that found Extendicare wasn’t prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t follow infection-control and critical-incident requirements leading up to a deadly outbreak.
In fall 2020, 39 residents of the Regina Parkside home died.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority declined to comment Wednesday, instead pointing to news releases about its announcements last fall that made clear it is taking control of Extendicare operations. A similar move isn’t being considered with the WRHA, an Extendicare spokeswoman stated Wednesday.
Extendicare and WRHA both said, barring any privacy concerns, they will share the results of the ongoing investigations. One is being conducted by the Winnipeg Police Service, and one by Manitoba’s protection for persons in care office.
At Oakview Place, resident Agnes Heinrichs was out for a walk Wednesday with her twin sister Helena Klassen. The 78-year-old said she has lived at Oakview for several years and has been well taken care of by staff (two of whom came outside when they saw her being interviewed and told her she didn’t have to answer any questions).
"I’ve been here a long time and I love it here. I’ve never been hurt by anybody," she said, adding she wasn’t previously aware of the allegations.
Her sister was concerned after hearing that the allegations were not reported to the WRHA for four months. The delay might have caused more residents to be abused in the meantime, Klassen said.
Extendicare owns or manages seven personal care homes in Manitoba, including one in Selkirk and one in Brandon.
Eileen Sim, 78, said her husband has been living at Extendicare’s Tuxedo Village since April 1. He was forced to leave the couple’s Winnipeg home after injuries in a fall.
Sim said she was unhappy about the level of care her husband receives, particularly because his stay at the facility costs $90.50 each day.
"If you needed to stay, if your parents got sick, could you afford to spend $36,000 a year to have them stay here?" she said.
Despite her concerns, Sim said she believes the quality of care at the facility is still better than others in the city, and most issues at Tuxedo Village are a result of being understaffed.
Sim said she wasn’t surprised when she heard the news about Oakview.
"I’ve never heard good things about Oakview. So that was one, when it was suggested he might go there, I said no," she said.
The incident was clearly poorly handled, especially considering the two health-care aides were allowed to continue working for four months until the allegations were reported to the WRHA, said Canadian long-term care expert Dr. Samir Sinha, a Winnipeg-raised director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and the University Health Network in Toronto.
The whistleblowers did the right thing, but "it seems there was a failure of leadership to deal with this properly," Sinha said.
The administrator of Oakview Place resigned and a new director of regional operations for Manitoba was appointed Monday.
Sinha said he hopes this case doesn’t simply result in more regulations for care homes. A deeper look is required at the root causes of abuse and neglect, he said.
"Unfortunately, sometimes we have good policy but bad practice, and I think this is a classic textbook example where nobody is justifying what actually happened or trying to defend the actions that occurred," he said.
"We know that a lot of abuse and neglect that occurs in these settings often stems from the fact that workers are not well-supported. There’s often significant issues with staffing in these homes that really create a huge burden for the front-line workers, and these residents are particularly vulnerable… so it’s a perfect storm for things like this to happen."
— with files from Tyler Searle
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.