The Ontario government will not explain the reasons why it altered an inspection report to extend the deadline for a nursing home to fix serious problems, including physical abuse, during a Global News investigation.
Global News started investigating the care and living conditions at Park Lane Terrace, run by APANS Health Services, this winter after a damning 172-page inspection report showed dozens of infractions, including abuse, medication errors and staffing shortages, at the Paris, Ont., home.
WATCH: Families of Park Lane Terrace nursing home residents speak out
Global requested an interview with APANS Health Services in March. Shortly after that interview request, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care pulled the report from its website.
The report reappeared online around the time Global News published the first piece on Park Lane Terrace. It was amended to give the nursing home more time to meet ministry demands for change in half of the eight compliance orders listed.
For four of the eight orders, the ministry had a mid-March due date in place — already passed when Global News asked APANS for an interview. The deadlines are now in May.
One of the extensions was for one of the most serious infractions — failing to protect residents from abuse, which the ministry determined led to “actual harm.”
“It is outrageous that, upon public questioning, a nursing home operator can contact the Ministry of Health and have an inspection/compliance report taken off the website and changed. What kind of public accountability is that? It makes it look like the Ministry of Health is in cahoots with the nursing home operator and not operating in the public interest,” said Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition.
WATCH: Ontario Health Coalition report finds levels of care inadequate at province’s long-term care facilities
Mehra said the ministry should clearly explain why the report was pulled and what happened, as the inspection and enforcement process is supposed to be transparent.
Ministry spokesperson David Jensen would not answer whether there was a correlation between the Global interview request and the removal of the report.
“The amendments made to the Inspection Report include minor clerical changes, as well as changes to the Compliance Due Date of four Compliance Orders. In order to adjust the compliance due dates associated with compliance orders, the inspection report was amended and as a result, was temporarily removed from the website to allow for those edits,” Jensen said.
Families say residents are at risk while waiting for improvements
The extension leaves residents languishing in poor conditions, according to family members who spoke to Global News. The inspection was conducted last summer, but families say they’ve yet to see any improvement.
“There are no consequences to Park Lane Terrace for this. Nobody goes to jail, there are no financial penalties, nothing. Basically, a nursing home can get away with this. This is why Park Lane keeps getting written up for many of the same things,” said John Vice, whose mother-in-law has lived in the care home for nearly three years.
“Sadly,” it’s not uncommon for nursing homes to be granted extensions, said Jane Meadus of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly. But she says it is unusual for the original report to be pulled down in the meantime.
Meadus says this particular ministry report may be the worst she’s ever seen.
“To continue to allow people to be admitted there I think is a problem. But also, there’s a serious management problem, and I think they’ve got to address that sooner rather than later,” Meadus said.
“There’s a lot of very serious issues, any of which could lead to serious injury or death.”
Meadus says the ministry is limited in what actions it can take, as there are no financial penalties to impose. A very serious and rare next step would be for the ministry to block new admissions.
Management at Park Lane Terrace refused an interview. In a statement, APANS Health Services CEO Mary Raithby said there have been “positive changes” since the ministry report in question was issued.
“The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has reviewed the steps we have taken and are currently taking, and they are satisfied with our changes,” said Raithby, who also said the facility is working to increase nursing staff this week.
The ministry says it will continue to conduct unannounced inspections at the home.
“To protect the safety of residents and based on numerous ministry orders, Park Lane Terrace has submitted a corrective plan of action, which is being closely monitored by the ministry,” said Hayley Chazan, spokesperson to Health Minister Christine Elliott, who would not do an interview for this story.
Understaffing a chronic problem in Ontario: advocates
A group of families who have loved ones at the care home say issues with management and understaffing are the biggest problems at the facility.
Other health advocates say the issue goes far beyond Park Lane Terrace.
Mehra calls understaffing in nursing homes a crisis. Her organization is planning a rally at Queen’s Park next week to protest proposed health care cuts and privatization by the Doug Ford government.
CLAC, the union representing employees at Park Lane Terrace, calls understaffing the number one issue facing long-term care in the province.
In an open letter in response to Global’s coverage, the union writes, “The heartbreaking story, “It Just Gets Worse,” by Global News reporter Abigail Bimman, should both shock and upset the public. Because the reality of Ontario’s long term care is both shocking and upsetting.”
WATCH: Resident says death would be better than care home’s awful conditions
Those concerns are echoed by Miranda Ferrier, president of the Ontario Personal Support Worker Association, who calls understaffing “common” and “constant.”
Families looking for change should reach out to provincial politicians, she said.
“We tell families that the best thing they can do is get involved,” said Ferrier. “Demand a set ratio in long-term care.”
No government commitment to staffing levels
In 2017, the then-Liberal Ontario government promised they were working towards a standard of four hours of care per resident per day in nursing homes.
Elliott wouldn’t say whether the Ford government will implement standards for hours of care or mandatory minimum staffing.
“Minister Elliott is committed to ensuring that Ontarians in long-term care homes are safe and live with dignity,” spokesperson Hayley Chazan said in a statement.
“Our government will continue to work to ensure that homes across the province meet the highest standards of care.”
Nowhere in Canada has mandatory minimum staffing ratios for PSWs or nurses. (As health care is a provincial responsibility, care levels and regulations vary across the country.)
Ontario requires one nurse on duty at all times. So, too, does Nova Scotia (unless the home has fewer than 30 residents, in which case a registered nurse is only required for a minimum of eight hours a day).
British Columbia and Quebec simply require “sufficient” staffing, up to each home, while Saskatchewan requires an “appropriate staffing mix.” Quebec is carrying out 20 pilot projects looking at ratios, set to wrap up by this summer.
Fewer than half of provinces in this country have minimum care hour requirements; Prince Edward Island and Manitoba are closest to what Ontario was looking at with 3.9 and 3.6 hours of care, respectively.
-With files from Rebecca Lindell