A Richmond Hill family is sharing their story and say they hope it will lead to a public outcry and justice for their loved one.
They allege the family’s 90-year-old matriarch was sexually assaulted inside a Richmond Hill hospital and claimed it was covered up.
Sonja Shirdan was admitted to Mackenzie Health for pneumonia in September 2015. Her family, who said she was frail and struggling to survive, would visit her daily and said her health was slowly improving; until one day when they noticed something wasn’t right.
“She couldn’t speak. She didn’t speak for months,” Ran Shirdan, Sonja’s grandson, told Global News.
“She was holding her fists over her chest part of the time, over her crotch part of the time, clenching her teeth and just having a very frightened, angry look on her face. Her bottom lip was bruised, all shades of blue. Her arms were battered and bruised.”
The Shirdan family said they immediately had her discharged from the hospital and they took her back to the nursing home. Two months later, they got a call from the hospital asking them to meet with management at Mackenzie Health.
“One of the nurses walked in and opened the drape around the bed and saw him — him being a hospital PSW who is responsible for bathing and changing patients — doing ungodly things to my grandmother,” Ran said, recalling what officials said.
“They said it was horrifying and horrible, we won’t tell you more… I was sitting there and I said, ‘What did police do?’ and they said, ‘We didn’t call the police, we fired him,'” Eva Shirdan, Sonja’s daughter, said.
York Regional Police told Global News the hospital did not report the alleged assault to officers and that the complaint came from the family of another victim.
Police said the investigation revealed the alleged perpetrator, 53-year-old Soja Zadeh, who is also known under the name Shojaadin Mohammad-Zadeh, went to work at a nursing home in Aurora where he allegedly assaulted two other seniors. He was accused of sexually assaulting several others and faced more than a dozen charges.
Zadeh walked away with a plea deal. He received three-years probation after pleading guilty to just one assault charge. The family said they were told by prosecutors there was little chance of conviction. He now lives in Newmarket with his wife and children.
In a statement to Global News, Mackenzie Health officials said the previous policy was to report allegations to police only with the consent of the patient involved.
“We have revised this policy, requiring all allegations of criminal behaviour to be immediately reported to police,” the statement said.
Ran said hospital officials told his mother the matter was kept “within closed doors to not jeopardize the hospital’s reputation.”
“We’ve been on this for two years fighting and the legal system is not doing much of anything. The legal system clearly is not,” he said.
Ran said he’s sharing his grandmother’s story on social media, which has gone viral, to call for #JusticeForSonja. The family said it has also launched a civil suit against the hospital.
In Canada, there are no federal laws that make reporting of elder abuse mandatory and in Ontario reporting of abuse is mandatory only if the patient lives in a long-term-care home or a retirement home.
Personal support workers are also not regulated in the province, something the Shirdans are calling for.
Full statement from Mackenzie Health:
First and foremost, the safety and well-being of our patients is, and has always been, our top priority at Mackenzie Health. To ensure that we are meeting this commitment, we regularly review and update our practices and policies to provide the best quality of care.
In the 2015 case against a PSW in our hospital, Mackenzie Health immediately initiated an internal investigation after allegations about a member of our staff were brought forward by one patient. The staff member was immediately suspended and issued a no trespass order.
Previously, our policy was to report allegations to police only with the consent of the patient involved. When one family did, that is when the police investigation began. We shared the required information with police and cooperated fully during the police investigation and judicial proceedings, which are now completed.
Further, we diligently examined and updated our policies. Under our current policy, all allegations of criminal behaviour are reported to police, without requiring patient consent.
We continue to encourage all of our staff to be vigilant in reporting any incident of concern regarding treatment of our patients or their family members.
Our hospital community was deeply saddened by the events of 2015 and our hearts go out to the families affected.
There is no regulatory body for personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario. We support efforts to establish a regulatory authority for PSWs.