Watch above: The provincial government says the number of founded cases of elder abuse has dropped over the past year. But as Kendra Slugoski reports, elder advocates aren’t convinced.
EDMONTON – Those who advocate for Alberta seniors in provincial care say they don’t believe new provincial government statistics that show the number of abuse cases has dropped over the past year.
According to documents obtained by Global News, Alberta Health Services says 26 per cent fewer confirmed cases of elder abuse were reported this year compared to the previous year.
“They are with respect to the treatment of residents in facility-based care. We’re talking about quite a broad definition here: everything from concerns around physical abuse and neglect, right through to emotional and even financial,” says Health Minister Fred Horne.
AHS says a total of 469 individuals were involved in alleged abuse cases between April 2013 and April 2014. Of those, investigators with Protection for Persons in Care confirmed 123 cases of abuse.
Horne says while he’s cautiously optimistic about the numbers, “we seem to be on the beginnings of a positive trend.”
“Most of the calls we’re getting are from frontline staff. So that to me is a really good sign because it means the staff are empowered and it means they can feel free to do what they want to do most, which is look out for the residents.”
However, Ruth Adria with the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society says many cases of abuse are simply being ignored.
“Essentially, we don’t believe them,” Adria says of the statistics. “The system doesn’t want to admit that horrific neglect, harm is happening in long-term care.”
Adria referred to a 2013 case in which a 73-year-old woman died after being infected with bed sores that were left untreated for so long her flesh began to blacken and decay. Violet MacDonald was a resident at McKenzie Town Care Centre, a government-funded care centre in Calgary, before she died on Oct. 27.
A provincial report indicated the abuse allegations were founded. However, Adria says in many cases allegations are unfounded, and often times seniors are too afraid to report abuse.
“Partly, they’re fearful. We know that if you complain they’re told, ‘Look, if you don’t like it here you can go elsewhere.’ And you know that’s not possible,” she explains. “Horrific complaints are declared to be unfounded. Ultimately, people get discouraged, they know that nothing is going to be done.”
Horne says part of the battle is making sure seniors, their families, and staff members feel comfortable speaking up about abuse.
“The system can’t work if people feel they’re going to be personally at risk.”
And while the new numbers are encouraging, Horne says there is still much work to be done.
“I certainly don’t think by any stretch of the imagination that we can let our guard down here.”
Beginning this August, under a new $3 million three-year provincial grant program, communities can apply for up to $150,000 in funding to develop, implement or enhance elder abuse prevention initiatives.
WATCH: Horne speaks with Gord Steinke about elder abuse cases in Alberta
With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News.
© 2014 Shaw Media