Police probing removal of door handles at Ontario retirement home, reports of threats against staff

Click to play video: 'Investigations underway after door handles allegedly removed to residents’ rooms at Ontario retirement home'
Investigations underway after door handles allegedly removed to residents’ rooms at Ontario retirement home
WATCH ABOVE: An investigation has been launched into retirement home in Clarington, Ont. after there were reports that a staff member had removed door handles from some of the resident’s units. Erica Vella reports – Feb 12, 2021

Durham Regional Police officers have launched an investigation into a Courtice, Ont., retirement home after door handles were removed from an unspecified number of rooms of residents in the assisted living section of the facility.

According to a statement issued by the service Monday afternoon, the investigation began after reports involving surfaced on Friday. After the reports and allegations, police said they also received “complaints of threats being made against the home/staff” on the weekend.

“The [Durham Regional Police Service] criminal investigations bureau at East Division is looking into the matter and we will be reaching out to our community partners and oversight bodies to properly address these concerns,” the statement said.
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“The investigation is ongoing and investigators are asking the public for any information about this complaint that would assist them.”

On Friday, 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.”

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The initial details of the incident were contained in a Citytv report on Friday based on an anonymous staff whistleblower who came forward. That individual 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 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.

Global News has not been able to independently corroborate the employee’s allegations.

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, their families and employees.

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.”

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“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.”

The Retirement Home Regulatory Authority reported an inspection was done at the home on Feb. 4, but details of that inspection are still pending. A spokesperson confirmed police were also contacted in the course of the agency’s review.

“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,” Phil Norris said in a statement on Friday.

“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.

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Meanwhile, anyone with information or video was asked to call police at 1-888-579-1520 ext. 1657.

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