An Estevan woman is speaking out against what she calls a pattern of neglect and possible abuse of the residents of the Estevan Regional Nursing Home.
Maggie Dupuis, whose mother Mary Mack has lived at ERNH since August 2010, said she has documented a number of problems at the long-term care facility over the past two years.
In papers and photos she provided to The Mercury, Dupuis listed a number of incidents directly involving her mother and noted she has seen other residents enduring similar issues.
Dupuis said her family has voiced her concerns to the management of the Sun Country Health Region, which owns and operates the facility, but have gotten nowhere and feel stonewalled by the organization, despite a handful of meetings and correspondence.
"It's a losing battle," said Dupuis who noted her 92-year-old mother suffers from dementia.
Frustrated in her efforts to see a change, Dupuis, on behalf of her family, contacted The Mercury in 2011 and again in 2012 when issues began to resurface.
Dupuis also provided The Mercury with a number of documents detailing the alleged instances of neglect and possible abuse and e-mail exchanges with Sun Country management and the provincial government. She has also reported her allegations to the Estevan Police Service. The EPS has confirmed an unofficial complaint was made and that there is no investigation ongoing at this time.
While many of the incidents Dupuis documented took place in 2011 — she was unable to keep up her work for an extended period due to a health issue of her own — a pair of recent incidents have put her on alert once again.
In one, Dupuis said she and her daughter were waiting outside of her mother's room while an aide was getting her ready for bed. After that was complete she entered the room and began pulling her mother's laundry from a tote bin.
"I looked and there was a folded (feces) filled diaper pad laying in the (bin). It was just like it was taken off her, folded over and it wasn't like it was tossed, it was laid in there."
Dupuis said after the grisly discovery she went to find a nurse who was equally appalled at what she found.
"She looks at me and goes 'oh my god, Maggie, I am so sorry.'"
Although Dupuis believes the diaper was placed there by an ERNH employee she has had past run-ins with, even if she were to give the benefit of the doubt that it was an accident, she questioned how clothes were placed on top of a soiled pad.
"I said to the nurse, 'I know it's not your fault but if it was put in there accidentally someone who threw clothes in there on top of (the pad) had to see it.'"
Dupuis said in another instance she found two pads full of feces in the garbage despite the rules that waste such as diapers are not to be left in the room.
She also noted that one other time a pair of soiled pants that should have been rinsed out by staff members were placed in a bag. Dupuis said when she went to clean the pants, she realized the bag was heavier than it should have been and when she opened it she discovered the pants were not rinsed out.
Dupuis said aside from the obvious health concerns handling soiled items presents, she is frustrated with the response she continues to get from staff who apologize and say things will change only to see them happen over and over again.
Aside from these recent incidents, Dupuis also documented past cases where her mother's hand braces were not put on or were placed on the wrong hands, she was severely dehydrated, her eyeglasses were not put on, her support stockings were not put on and her dentures were not placed in her mouth and she had to eat without them. There have also been issues regarding the cleaning of the dentures.
"It's something you expect to expect when you go there, that is basically how to describe it," Dupuis said. "Why is this allowed to happen? If this happened to a child, they wouldn't get away with it. It just bothers me that this can be allowed in a nursing home for seniors."
Another incident that stood out for Dupuis and one she documented in depth, involved her mother being placed in one of the common areas while wearing just an incontinence pad on her lower half. Dupuis said when she arrived, she found her mother in the main public lounge in the middle of the day on a Sunday, in full sight of other residents and visitors, with freezing cold legs.
After asking staff why her mother was not wearing any pants, Dupuis claims she was told that they must have run out of pants.
"Am I actually suppose (sic) to accept that as a valid excuse for belittling my mother like that? How inhumane is that," Dupuis wrote in a letter she gave to Sun Country officials.
After returning her mother to her room, Dupuis was able to locate a floor-length housecoat, two large Afghans and a queen-sized quilt. There was also a hospital gown she could have been placed in, she wrote.
With respect to possible cases of abuse, Dupuis recently found a large bruise on her mom's hand which staff members could not explain. Although it is well known that seniors do bruise easily, the lack of an answer from staff coupled with the ongoing issues has Dupuis leery of what might be taking place.
Dupuis said she understands that some dementia patients are violent with staff, which could lead to bruising, but she has never been told by anyone at ERNH that her mother was rough with them. In fact many of them have told Dupuis that her mother is quite calm and usually goes along with whatever they say.
Dupuis said there are many excellent employees at the nursing home and did not want to give the impression that the majority of employees at ERNH are the problem.
Those sentiments were supported by a former employee who said while working at the nursing home they witnessed many similar issues and a general culture of neglect.
The former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said 97 per cent of the staff at ERNH are good workers who care about the residents but it's the "three per cent" who have created a toxic environment that includes bullying and intimidation, which has severely damaged staff morale. The source feels the low morale is partly responsible for some of the neglect issues, noting that working with seniors is one of the toughest jobs around and to have to work in those types of conditions makes things even tougher.
"There were days where I would go home and just bawl."
The former employee also feels many of the problems result from a systemic failure in how they are trained and managed by Sun Country.
"Sun Country puts these people in these situations with no training and no education," the person said. "Yes, you have the little bit of education you take at the school, but actual training (is needed) in communication, training in how to deal with someone who is abusive and manipulative, which is what some seniors are."
Our source noted they were trained to handle some of those issues but only after being a few years into their employment. In other cases, some employees were pulled from the training because they were needed in other areas. There was also little to no follow up to ensure the training was being implemented by the staff.
"There was never any follow through."
The lack of follow through also apparently extended to complaints against employees which our source said were often not pursued by management. Because the complaints are not properly dealt with, the employees causing the trouble are able to operate without any fear of repercussions. Others are afraid to speak up because they feel management does not have their backs. There is also a fear of reprisals from the co-workers causing the issues.
The former employee The Mercury spoke with told of one story when they attempted to do something nice for a resident but was threatened by a senior staff member who felt it would be setting a bad trend.
"I was happy when I left. It was like being in a schoolyard. You walk in every day and you fight for your spot. Every move you make, you are scrutinized. If you do anything to help somebody that these senior people don't want you to do, you are told to stop doing it, and they almost insinuate that something will happen. There have been girls that left there crying. You just get no support from your upper management. They need to clean house over there and just say we are not putting up with this anymore."
The unwillingness to put up with the situation at ERNH has also led to another problem the source noted. The good workers who are fed up with how things are going and the lack of improvement often leave for other jobs while those causing the issues remain.
"Nobody really gets involved too much because you don't have any backing. If you do step up and say something, you better be ready for the backlash. It's a small group of about three or four. They will make your life hell in that nursing home."
Along with better training on how to deal with seniors, the former employee also feels Sun Country should explore the idea of Nanny Cams in every room.
When asked for a comment on the allegations, Sun Country said their goal is to provide the best possible care for long-term residents at all times and that they take any complaints against staff very seriously.
They are also looking into the concerns raised by the family to ensure they have done everything possible to provide appropriate care for their loved one and are willing to meet with them to discuss the circumstances and possible actions that may be needed.
Any future response to the allegations will be made only to the family as they are legally obligated to protect the privacy of all involved.