Seniors care crisis continues

Three years after very serious concerns about staffing and standards in seniors care homes were first raised by the NDP and concerned families, the Sask. Party hasn’t fixed anything – but appear to be making an effort to make sure the troubles are kept quiet.

Several family members and former health care workers joined NDP Leader Cam Broten at the legislature Wednesday to say seniors care hasn’t gotten any better, and Saskatchewan’s seniors can’t afford for the Sask. Party to keep turning their back on the crisis. They say understaffing in care homes is still resulting in seniors not getting baths, not always getting the time or help to eat and not getting the personal care they need for both health and dignity.

Deeply troubling is that several say their attempts to raise concerns yielded nothing but threats and intimidation.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that Mr. Wall has been so dismissive of the terrible problems we know are plaguing seniors care homes,” said Broten. “Even when families have come forward with heartbreaking stories of neglect or avoidable incidents caused by understaffing, Wall has dismissed what’s going on in seniors care homes rather than taking action. Now, I’m hearing again that when the government hears a concerning story, it investigates the complainer rather than the complaint.”

Lynn Emerson’s mom, Ann Emerson, is 101 years old. After a troubling incident with her mom’s care about a year ago, Emerson tried to get answers and accountability. At first, no one would listen and she felt stonewalled, but after collecting concerns from many others in the care home and sending that to the health region, meetings finally took place. But her concerns were not addressed. Instead she was warned that complaining could get her in legal hot water because of the Health Information Protection Act (HIPA).

“I’ve come to the legislature today to give a voice to long-term short-staffing in care facilities in Saskatchewan, and the fact that people feel threatened with fines, jail and job loss if they speak out,” said Emerson. “I am furious they threatened me when I was just advocating for my mother, and the staff I care deeply about that are being burned out. Reports of abuse and neglect are being ignored.”

Gena Ferguson Peters retired in March after working for five years at the Golden Prairie Nursing Home in Indian Head, where she says short staffing was common.

About a year ago, Ferguson Peters and her coworkers became concerned about a resident’s care. Attempts by staff to have the concerns addressed were ignored, so a large group of staff, residents and supporters sent a letter to Brad Wall. Because her name appeared on a draft of the letter, Ferguson Peters was called to a meeting with the health region, where they warned her that she could be violating HIPA, and could be fired, face a fine of $50,000 or spend a year in jail.

Ferguson Peters said she began to feel “vilified” in the workplace. “This intimidation is endemic,” she told the NDP. “Instead of investigating themselves, it appears all they’re investigating is the people complaining.”

Ferguson Peters took a stress leave, then retired as a result of the intimidation.

It was April 2013 when Carrie Klassen first came to the legislature to shine a light on major problems in seniors care after seeing low staffing levels hurt the care residents were getting in the Regina care home in which her mom lived. Two and a half years later, and after conversations with other families around the province, Klassen says she’s devastated that nothing has changed.

“We’ve given this government information, shared personal family stories and we’ve even made them aware of tragedies that have happened because of the problems in seniors care homes,” said Klassen, who was at the legislature Wednesday. “I can’t believe they haven’t done anything about the seniors care crisis.”

Many families have come forward to speak out publicly with the help of the NDP, sharing stories of loved ones harmed because there wasn’t enough care available for them in an understaffed care home, or because of an avoidable incident caused by understaffing and lack of legislated standards in care homes.

Among them were the families of Margaret Warholm, Fern Chingos, Lorne Rowell, Jesse Sellwood, Irene Hohne and Lois Rein. Each of those seniors died prematurely in a seniors care home because of these problems.