Investigation shows system failed Warholm – and she’s not alone

Seniors care crisis is widespread, ombudsman investigation shows

The findings of an investigation by Saskatchewan's Ombudsman detail how our province's seniors care system failed Margaret Warholm, 74, a woman in care who died malnourished, suffering from broken bones and with a painful bedsore covering her back. The report also shows the seniors care system is in crisis, and says Warholm’s tragic case is not unique.

The Opposition is calling on the government to finally take action to address the seniors care crisis. After more than two years of devastating reports and family stories, NDP Leader Cam Broten said it’s far past time for the Sask. Party government to stop minimizing the seniors care crisis, and denying its widespread nature.

“Margaret’s final months were undignified and painful, and her death was tragic and unfair,” said Broten. “She spent her life caring for those around her, raising a wonderful family and helping to build our province. She deserved compassionate care in her final years, but she was horribly let down by a seniors care system under significant strain.

“This report should be a final notice to the Sask. Party government – it can’t keep denying that it has a seniors care crisis. For Margaret, the many others who suffered like Margaret and many thousands who are in care today and will be in care in the future, this government’s inaction is unpalatable.”

The government has no regulated minimum care standards or staffing requirements in seniors long-term care homes after cancelling them in 2011. Vague government guidelines were not met in Warholm’s case, and the report concludes: “over the course of our investigation, we came to the conclusion that this was not a unique situation.”

The report confirms a failure to feed Warholm and ensure she was getting proper nutrition; a failure to update her care plan and follow it; a lack of appropriate communication with Warholm’s family; shoddy record-keeping and a level of care that can only be described as neglect.

Broten and the Opposition New Democrats have been shining a light on the seniors care crisis for more than two years. Over that time, the NDP has helped give a voice to dozens of families concerned about a loved one’s care – including seven cases in which a senior died prematurely. Each case has in common a lack of regulated standards, and low staffing levels at their core; concerns the ombudsman confirmed.

89 more families contacted Ombudsman Mary McFadyen during the course of her investigation – many of which shared stories “very similar to the concerns Margaret’s family raised,” she reported.

“During this investigation, many families who contacted us told us that there did not appear to be enough staff to provide care to their loved ones in facilities,” McFadyen reported. “Care staff – nurses and care aides – all described feeling like there are impossible expectations put on them in terms of their work load, so they triage, determining what needs to be done first and ignoring other residents while they try to get their work done. They admitted that they cut corners.”

The NDP supports the 19 recommendations made by the ombudsman, including the specific call for the Ministry of Health to develop and implement a comprehensive seniors care strategy that adequately addresses staffing levels and minimum care standards.

The NDP also wants its Residents in Care Bill of Rights Act passed – a law that would require the government to set minimum regulated standards in long-term care.