‘It just gets worse’: Resident, families, former staff voice care concerns at Ontario nursing home

Click to play video: 'Families of Ontario nursing home residents speak out'
Families of Ontario nursing home residents speak out
A group of families with loved ones living at the Park Lane Terrace long-term care home tell Abigail Bimman some of their serious concerns about care - and go through a damning report from the Ministry of Health that backs them up. – Apr 24, 2019

Families, former staff members and a resident of the Park Lane Terrace long-term care home are speaking out about conditions at the small town Ontario home, desperate for increased staffing levels and better care.

“Nothing changes for the better. It just gets worse, day in and day out,” said resident Peter Albers.

WATCH: Families fed up with Ontario nursing home speak out 

Click to play video: 'Families of residents at an Ontario nursing home share concerns about care'
Families of residents at an Ontario nursing home share concerns about care

Albers, 66, has multiple sclerosis and difficultly speaking. He also has diabetes, and ended up at the Paris, Ont. home after his right leg was amputated. He’s one of few residents there who is fully mentally cognizant.

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He says understaffing meant he once went without a bath for 30 days.

Some of those days were because he refused to be cared for by a “stranger” — a rotating, agency-sent staff member instead of one of the regular personal support workers (PSWs) who know him.

WATCH: Park Lane Terrace resident Peter Albers shares his story 

Click to play video: 'Ontario nursing home resident on his stressful living situation'
Ontario nursing home resident on his stressful living situation

Along with Albers, Global News spoke with a dozen family members and former Park Lane staff members. They all point to problems with management and understaffing, heightened after a series of layoffs that began in 2018, as the roots of the issues.

Families tell Global News they’ve filed countless complaints with the home’s management, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and in a couple of cases, police, but nothing changes.

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MORE: Advocates cry foul after Ontario officials alter nursing home inspection report without explanation

Albers says after a wheelchair collision between him and a resident with dementia, management threatened to take away his power wheelchair — key to his independence. For him, the quality of care and life is so bad, he’s looked into the possibility of medically-assisted death.

His sister Mary Huurman, sitting beside Albers in an interview, choked up as she explained her brother isn’t a candidate for assisted death, nor would she want him to be, but she understands why he feels that way.

Peter Albers lives at Park Lane Terrace. He and his sister Mary Huurman share their concerns about care with Abigail Bimman. Kurt Brownridge / Global News

Albers has had three heart attacks since he came to Park Lane, which he attributes to the stressful living situation.

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“If he has a fourth one it would likely be the last,” said Huurman. “For the life that remains for him, I would like him to have assurance there would be care when he needs it.”

“It’s a true travesty to treat people the way Park Lane treats them,” said John Vice, whose mother-in-law lives at the Paris, Ont. facility.

“These are human beings that we are talking about. The most vulnerable human beings in our society.”

Vice’s mother-in-law has lived at Park Lane for nearly three years, and he says there’s been an issue with her care on a near-monthly basis.

“Probably the most disturbing was my wife arriving to see her mom and finding her soaking wet in her own urine,” says Vice. With a diaper so full, urine was “flooding down her knees,” and Vice wonders how long she had been left like that.

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Many of the specific concerns voiced to Global News are echoed in Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care inspection reports.

In a 172-page report, the ministry slams Park Lane over and over for a long list of mistakes, everything from how it handled alleged sexual, verbal and physical abuse to understaffing, medication errors, missed baths and incontinence issues.

Shortly after Global News contacted the home’s operator for an interview, that particular report disappeared from the ministry’s website.

Ministry spokesperson David Jensen would not answer whether there was a correlation between the Global interview request and the removal of the report, but said it was “temporarily removed from the public website for amendments.”

READ MORE: Ontario Minister of Health announces 1,157 new long-term care beds at facilities across Ontario

Park Lane is owned by APANS Health Services, and CEO Mary Raithby declined requests for an on-camera interview.

In a statement, Raithby tells Global News the specific report referenced is from the summer, and they have “made a number of positive changes” since then.

“Resident care, resident safety and resident well-being have always been and will always be our first priority. Our staff members provide amazing high-quality and compassionate care to our residents, often in very difficult and demanding situations,” reads part of the response.

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Raithby says she cannot comment on specific concerns “due to privacy, confidentiality and/or labour relations considerations.” She says they are in the process of “increasing nursing staff” this week, even though the government has not confirmed their 2019 funding levels yet.

“We are committed to quality care and services for our residents and we are fully engaged in our identified opportunities for improvement.”

READ MORE: Nearly 90% of Ontario long-term care staff experience violence: reports

But family members and former staff tell Global News things haven’t improved since the summer.

For PSW Jessa Grosvold, working conditions at Park Lane became so “stressful” and “toxic,” she left a job she once loved in October 2018, after 11 years.

“We loved those residents. We wanted to try and do our best. But you physically couldn’t help them with the five or 10 minutes you got with them,” said Grosvold.

“You’re a number in a bed. You’re not a person. You’re not somebody’s mom or somebody’s dad or somebody’s grandma. You’re just ‘room 482’ and that’s how [management] sees things and that’s what makes the problem,” said Grosvold.

She and other former staff members tell Global News that after the layoffs in 2018, it was common for one PSW to be responsible for 12 residents at once. As a result, stressed-out staff breaking down in tears in the hallways was a common sight.

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“You’re running and running and running,” she said of the pace.

Miranda Ferrier of the Ontario Personal Support Worker Association says that kind of pace is common at homes across the province. She’s long been pushing for a 1:8 PSW-to-resident ratio.

“That would mean the PSW would have more time with each resident, more quality of care, and the burnout rate would not be as high as it is today,” she said.

And while understaffing is a problem across the province, she is very concerned about what the ministry found at Park Lane.

“These are issues that plague a lot of long-term care facilities in the province of Ontario, but Park Lane seems to have every single issue plaguing its long-term care facility. It really seems like a lack of oversight by administration in the home,” Ferrier told Global News.

The ministry report cites Park Lane for having non-PSW staff who put on scrubs and told the inspectors “they were acting as a PSW today.” Duties included lifting and transferring residents.

Ferrier says operating mechanical lifts without training is dangerous to both residents and staff. But she says with chronic understaffing across the province, it’s happening more often.

“They will pull dietary out of the kitchen, they’ll pull housekeepers off the floor and they’ll ask them to assist the PSWs with their duties. Why is it wrong? Well, frankly it’s illegal, really. And secondly, it really puts the residents in harm’s way. The liability is through the roof,” Ferrier said.

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She calls it illegal because in Ontario, you need to have graduated from a PSW program in order to work as one.

As health care is a provincial responsibility, standards and requirements vary from province to province. But nowhere in Canada is there a mandatory minimum staffing ratio for PSWs.

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Some provinces, such as Alberta and Manitoba, have a set number of hours of care per resident per day (3.6 in Manitoba, for example), which include a mix of nursing and PSW staff.

Quebec is in the middle of a series of pilot projects, due to wrap up this summer, looking at ratios.

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For the families at Park Lane, they just want better care.

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“We need to be the voice for everybody in there,” said Trish Birrell, whose mother Patricia has lived at Park Lane for nearly four years. She says many of the residents aren’t able to advocate for themselves, and some residents and their families are too afraid to speak out.

“I see who doesn’t have visitors. Who speaks for them? Who talks for these people? It’s terrible.”

-With files from Rebecca Lindell 

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