Family urges advocacy for loved ones in nursing homes

By Sarah Ferguson, Fort Erie Times

Jessica Mitchell and her mother Myrna Ford became concerned about the care their mother, Mina Ford, was receiving at her nursing home so they installed a hidden camera in her room and aimed the lens directly on her. They say it's important to be an advocate for a loved one who is living in a nursing home.

Jessica Mitchell and her mother Myrna Ford became concerned about the care their mother, Mina Ford, was receiving at her nursing home so they installed a hidden camera in her room and aimed the lens directly on her. They say it's important to be an advocate for a loved one who is living in a nursing home.

When Mina Ford’s family began to feel something wasn’t right about the treatment she was receiving in her nursing home, they bought a camera and hid it inside a clock.

Mina’s daughter, Myrna Ford, and granddaughter, Jessica Mitchell, aimed the lens of the camera directly on Mina in her room at Crescent Park Lodge. From the moment the camera was turned on last summer, Jessica watched all the footage closely and kept a written record of what she saw.

The women said they became concerned about Mina’s care after she fractured her hip in 2013.

They say “the last straw” was seeing Mina’s change in appearance.

Myrna said she would help her mom bathe once a week, and often noticed a urine smell.

“Her face was dirty and she had filthy finger nails,” she said.

When Jessica saw her grandmother had small bruises on her neck and arms, she realized something had to be done.

“That’s when I thought we should invest in a camera.”

What they saw on the videos was upsetting. Jessica said she witnessed staff not following the proper protocol, which included providing care to her grandmother without closing her privacy curtain, being unnecessarily rough, which caused bruising, and not repositioning her every two hours, which resulted in bedsores.

Mina, who celebrated her 77th birthday recently, has Alzheimer’s disease. She relies on the staff at Crescent Park Lodge to care for her because she is unable to move by herself and only has the use of her arms.

Her daughter and granddaughter, who visit Mina daily, say it’s important to act as an advocate for a loved one who lives in a nursing or retirement home.

“You really have to be vigilant. I’d like to tell people, don’t just drop your mom or dad off at a home. Make sure you find out if they are being treated right,” Myrna said.

Jessica said the family reported the incidents to the nursing home, its union and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. The ministry conducted an investigation over four different days in July and August.

The ministry’s report stated care was observed, clinical records including policies and procedures were reviewed, and residents, staff and families were interviewed, revealing a number of non-compliance issues.

According to the report, Mina’s care plan indicated “the resident was incontinent, no longer toileted, required two staff for all brief changes in bed, before and after meals, required a safety device in place and was to be put back to bed after lunch.”

It also stated “care was not provided in accordance with the plan of care during the observation of provision of care.”

Staff did not use a mechanical lift or ceiling lift for transfer at five different times, as they were required to, one staff member instead of two transferred the resident via the ceiling lift on one date and “the resident wasn’t transferred back to bed after lunch on an observed date,” the report said.

Two inspectors observed the resident still seated in a chair at a specified time, verified by front line nursing staff —the resident was not transferred back to bed for a brief check or change from 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. as was required.

The home was given until Nov. 2 to respond to the complaint and improve care. An update regarding the report has not been made available to the family - the response was to be published online but hasn’t been yet.

The nursing home director of care, Lisa Huffman, said the home declined to comment about Mina’s care.

In August, Jessica contacted the Niagara Regional Police to report the alleged abuse.

Although there were no “outright assaults on Mina,” the police report stated, “the manner in which the personal support workers handled and moved her around in such an aggressive and rough manner” was “out of line and beyond excessive” for providing proper care.

According to the police report, an officer spoke with Carole Jukosky, senior administrator of the home, who was given 12 hours of video from six weeks of surveillance. As a result of the video, “four personal support workers were fired” and “five others were suspended or sanctioned,” according to the police report.

Jessica and Myrna allege a member of the community informed them two personal support workers who were fired are now working at the nursing home’s sister lodge, Maple Park Lodge.

In the police report, Jessica told the investigating officer one of her main concerns is personal support workers are not registered and can “easily go and apply for jobs elsewhere.”

“The only thing that can stop them from being hired is if they have a criminal record,” she said in the police report.

When the personal support workers named in the police report were contacted for comment, phone calls and e-mails were not returned.

When Jukosky was contacted for comment, she directed the Fort Erie Times to speak with Bert Wierenga, corporate human resource director of Conmed.

“Unfortunately, we can’t comment on this issue at this time,” Wierenga wrote in an e-mail. “Both workplaces are unionized and employee settlements are deemed confidential.”

The police officer conducting the investigation says in the report “while (the personal support workers) are rough and their lack of regard is disgusting,” the grounds to “lay assault charges (did not exist at the time).”

Jessica and Myrna want to share Mina’s story because there are other people living in long-term care homes with similar stories.

“So many people entrust their loved ones into the care of others and it’s important to make sure they are getting the care that they deserve,” Jessica said.

“My mother, she was the kind of person that would drop everything if any one of her children or grandchildren needed anything. Whatever she was doing, it wasn’t important anymore, because her family was her priority,” Myrna said. “She can’t speak for herself anymore and that’s why we need to speak for her.”

The family currently has Mina on a waiting list to be moved to another nursing home in Fort Erie but Jessica said Mina’s situation isn’t considered urgent because “she already has a home.”

According to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care website, there are two types of complaints. Urgent complaints include cases of harm, neglect, or danger to residents. Non-urgent complaints include less serious complaints related to diet, activities or care.

To report an urgent complaint, call the Long-term Care ACTION line at 1-866-434-0144 between 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

When making an urgent complaint it’s important to include the name of the home and address, a description of the problem, where the incident happened and who was involved.

For non-urgent complaints, a family member can report the concern directly the home.

According to the ministry’s web site, “all long-term care homes in Ontario must have written steps for people to make a complaint.” These steps should be posted in a place where they are easily accessible.

A staff member must inform the person who made the complaint that the home has received the complaint within two business days.

They must call or write to inform the family what they are going to do to resolve the complaint. If staff at the home believe there is no cause for the complaint, they must explain why.

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