Investigations by multiple entities are now underway after the operator of a Courtice, Ont., retirement home confirmed “a small number” of door handles were removed to the suites of residents who reportedly tested positive for coronavirus.
David Bird, the president and chief executive officer of Diversicare Canada, said he was “deeply disturbed” to hear the door handles were removed from assisted living household units at White Cliffe Terrace Retirement Residence on Highway 2 in Courtice, calling it a violation of protocols and practices.
“As soon as we became aware of the incident, all residents’ door handles were immediately reinstalled. The general manager was immediately placed on leave as soon as we learned of the incident,” he said in a statement to Global News Friday afternoon.
“We are thankful no residents were harmed due to these actions and I am thankful that this serious incident was brought to our attention.
“As part of our investigation, we are trying to establish how long the doors were without handles. There is absolutely no excuse to remove door handles – ever. We never lock in or prevent the free movement of our residents.”
The shocking discovery was shared in a Citytv report on Friday, citing information provided by an anonymous whistleblower.
The story said the employee alleged a manager at the White Cliffe Terrace “ordered maintenance staff to remove door handles on some fourth-floor assisted living suites last week, claiming it was “done to prevent COVID-19 positive residents from moving freely” around the facility.
“The whistleblower says management is trying to keep the story under wraps,” the report said, going on to quote the employee’s claims.
“We were all told we are not to speak about it. They are trying to hide it.”
The removal of the handles was reportedly discovered by a senior employee after several days. The whistleblower told the news outlet that those residents impacted by the action had access to food and were checked on by staff “who tried to work around the lack of door handles.”
As of Friday, Global News has not been able to independently corroborate the employee’s allegations.
Bird went on to say in situations when a resident “may have experienced cognitive impairment and not fully understand the measures we have in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” there are “strict protocols in place and other interventions such as wander strips, stop signs, localized safety alarms, and increased staffing levels if we are concerned that a resident might wander and present a danger to themselves or others.”
The statement said an unidentified senior member of the corporation is at the home to conduct a “thorough review” of the facility’s operations and to provide support to residents and employees.
“We are connecting with residents and family members to let them know what happened, how truly sorry we are, and the steps we are taking to prevent this from happening again,” he wrote.
“Residents and family members trust us to provide a very high standard of service to our residents and we let them down. We will do everything we can to earn back their trust.”
Global News contacted multiple government representatives for comment on the situation.
Elric Pereira, the press secretary to Ontario Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho, called such action “completely unacceptable” and that it “will not be tolerated.”
“We have reached out to the Retirement Home Regulatory Authority (RHRA) to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted,” Pereira wrote.
The RHRA reported an inspection was done at the home on Feb. 4, but details of that inspection are still pending. A spokesperson also noted Durham Regional Police were contacted as part of its review.
“While we cannot speculate on what enforcement action may entail, the RHRA has a number of tools at its disposal including administrative monetary penalties, orders and conditions,” Phil Norris said in a statement to Global News Friday evening.
“At this time, the RHRA believes that residents do not face (an) additional risk of harm. If at any time this changes, we will not hesitate to act immediately.
“The RHRA will continue to work with the licensee to ensure that this conduct does not occur again, and will collaborate with our community partners as needed to ensure all residents remain safe.”
Norris said there was a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, but the extent wasn’t immediately clear. He said it was resolved on Feb. 4.
A spokesperson for Clarington Emergency and Fire Services told Global News the agency’s investigators “just learned of the potential situation” at the residence.
“Fire Prevention has been dispatched to look into the situation and any fire code violations. An investigation has been launched and is ongoing,” Basia Radomski said in a brief statement Friday afternoon.