Manitobans aren't told if a personal-care home's licence is under review unless they ask about it directly.
Neither the provincial government nor care-home operators are required to proactively disclose when licences are under review because of concerns the facilities aren't meeting provincial standards, a spokesperson for the province confirmed Tuesday.
That means residents of three Manitoba personal-care homes and their families wouldn't have known the province began reviewing the facilities' operating licences late last year and was considering restrictions if certain conditions weren't met.
Problems with staffing levels, infection control and safety at two large long-term care homes in Winnipeg and one in northern Manitoba, led Manitoba Health to place the licences under review, news reports revealed this week, but residents and their families didn't know.
Facilities have to inform current and new residents about a change in licensing status only if they ask. In response to a Free Press inquiry about mechanisms in place to keep residents and families informed about such reviews, a provincial government spokesperson wrote:
"Family members are often invited to participate in the provincial site standards review process. The province does not generally communicate directly with families on the outcomes of personal-care home reviews. If contacted by the public, the province will provide information on the status of a personal-care home’s licence. The facility is obligated to share the status of its licence if asked by any current or future residents or family members."
In Manitoba, standards reviews are supposed to be conducted at each facility at least once every two years. Those reports are now posted online. But it's rare for the homes' operating licences to be put up for review.
There have been no licence revocations following reviews.
"Had I not gone, he would have died in that room. He would have choked to death in that room with nobody with him." — Lisa Prost on finding her father, Murray Balagus, choking in his room last week
Two facilities operated by Revera Inc. — Maples Long Term Care Home and Parkview Place — were placed under review Dec. 11.
The two care homes have been among the hardest hit in the province by COVID-19. Months-long outbreaks were finally declared over about two weeks ago. Neither is currently permitted to accept new residents.
Revera didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday on whether residents at either facility were informed about the review status.
Lisa Prost's father, Murray Balagus, lived at Maples for six years before he died last Thursday at age 91. She considered moving him elsewhere and wasn't told about the licence review.
Prost hopes her father's death brings changes that will save other lives. The facility is in desperate need of more staff who need to be properly trained and have some medical knowledge, she said.
Balagus, who was asymptomatic, tested positive for COVID-19 in October and recovered.
Prost believes no one noticed he was choking in his room after dinner last week. When she arrived for their daily visit, she found him in his wheelchair in a mask, facing the wall.
"I turn him around, he's as white as a ghost, he's foaming at the mouth and he's gurgling," she said.
Balagus was rushed to hospital, where staff told his daughter he'd aspirated and developed pneumonia. He died hours later in hospital. He'd had trouble swallowing and needed to be fed slowly. Prost wonders whether the staff on duty that day knew of his condition or were too busy to pay attention.
"Had I not gone, he would have died in that room. He would have choked to death in that room with nobody with him," she said.
"He would have died all by himself, like so many other people in that building did, and it's just disgraceful."
The facility is not properly staffed, she said.
"It's staffing; it's a money thing," she said. "These people have worked so hard all their lives — they're neglected. It's so mean, it's so cruel. Animals get better care."
Her father was member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, who went on to run four sporting goods stores in Winnipeg and was an active member of his church and the Knights of Columbus. He'd be stepping in to help if he knew someone else wasn't receiving adequate care, Prost said.
"If this was happening to somebody else, my dad would have to fix that problem," she said. "He was involved in everything. And to see him sit in a room, facing the wall, just broke my heart."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.