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Analysis

BC’s For-Profit Seniors’ Homes Are Shielded From Penalties For Abusing and Neglecting the Elderly, Critics Say

British Columbia’s senior-living facilities face few legal penalties for mistreating elderly residents

Critics say industry lobbying is shielding for-profit senior care homes from fines and accountability, something that is enabling a culture of abuse and neglect in some private care homes across British Columbia.

According to a recent investigation by CBC News, a 94-year-old blind woman was confined to a room that was infested with bed bugs for two weeks last December at a Chilliwack seniors’ home.

Staff at The Cascades, a senior care home owned by Sienna Senior Living, allege that managers at the for-profit facility threatened to fire employees for speaking out, although one eventually contacted the BC Ministry of Health. Those complaints prompted an investigation by the Ministry which found the company was “not in compliance” with standards on “safe and sanitary” building conditions and preventing “abuse and neglect.”

The company apologized, admitting service “should have been better.” But so far, no legal penalties has been levied.

Assisted living residences, like The Cascades, are subject to the rules of the BC Community Care and Assisted Living Act. However, those rules don’t allow the province to impose fines for what the ministry deems abusive or neglectful care.

Isobel Mackenzie, the Seniors Advocate of BC, says industry lobbyists have pressured successive provincial governments against tougher rules.

“I do not think we’re doing as effective a job as we could,” Mackenzie told PressProgress. “There’s been, to some degree, regulatory capture.”

Seniors’ homes can have their license suspended, cancelled or changed by a Medical Health Office if it violates BC’s assisted living laws, effectively shutting down the facility altogether — but this rarely happens, Mackenzie notes, because it would mean evicting seniors from their care homes.

“We can close them down, which, it’s true, is a very powerful tool. But we can’t do that– what are we going to do with the people that are living there?” Mackenzie said. “The question is when have we ever closed anybody down?”

Mackenzie said introducing fines would do more to keep for-profit care providers in check: “We should be looking at a regulatory regime that has some monetary teeth to it, so that a provider who fails to meet regulations, and doesn’t correct a deficiency or a violation, that there’s some escalating financial penalty for that.”

The incident at The Cascades isn’t the first time facilities owned by Sienna Senior Living (formerly Leisureworld Senior Care) have been accused of mistreating residents.

Last year, dozens of families in Ontario filed lawsuits against the company and one other claiming “systematic negligence.” One family alleged their father was hospitalized with bedsores that were so severe his bones were exposed.

BC Health authority data collected by the Office of the Seniors Advocate in 2017 and 2016 indicate other Sienna-owned facilities were accused of “abuse/neglect.” Those facilities include:

  • Brookside Lodge, Surrey (2 incidents in 2014-2015, 1 incident in 2015-2016)
  • Mariposa Gardens, Osoyoos (2 incidents in 2015-2016)
  • Lake Country Lodge (4 incidents in 2015-2016)

The Fraser and Interior Health Authorities confirmed they investigated Brookside Lodge, but told PressProgress it was unable to provide specific details about the incidents due to privacy laws.

“We can confirm that Fraser Health investigated the incident when it was reported,” a spokesperson said.

A spokesperson from Interior Health told PressProgress the authority was unable to provide any details about the alleged incidents at Mariposa Gardens and Lake Country Lodge, also citing privacy concerns.

Sienna did not respond to requests for comment from PressProgress.

The BC General Employees’ Union represents employees at The Cascades. BCGEU President Stephanie Smith told PressProgress the Chilliwack facility’s poor working conditions are common in private facilities.

“Unfortunately this isn’t something unique to this company,” she explained. “We have members that provide long term resident care support in other company-owned facilities. The question comes around: where is the oversight? Where is the accountability?”

BC’s Lobbyist Registry shows representatives of the BC Care Providers Association, the industry group representing private senior-care providers, met with BC MLAs and cabinet ministers dozens of times over the last 8 years.

Back in September, the BCCPA named Sienna Senior Living Vice President and Long Term Care Operations official Lisa Kelly, to its board of directors for 2019-2020.

BCCPA did not respond to questions from PressProgress regarding industry regulations or the BCCPA’s relationship with Sienna.

 

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