The CEO of the Sun Country Health Region says the organization will investigate the concerns raised about the Estevan Regional Nursing Home last week.
In an interview with The Mercury Monday, Marga Cugnet said Sun Country is having private conversations with the family of Mary Mack and will look into the allegations they made about the neglectful care and possible abuse of their mother.
Cugnet added she would like to ensure the public they take any allegations very seriously.
"We've got this family that is in this situation of expressing concerns to us, but other families are reading this type of thing as well," said Cugnet. "We want to assure them that everything is being looked at."
Frustrated by what they felt was a lack of action by Sun Country, Mack's children went public with their concerns to The Mercury in May. In an article that appeared on June 6, Mack's daughter, Maggie Dupuis, spoke about a number of concerns they had regarding their mother's care. As well, a former employee of ERNH also went public about the environment of bullying and intimidation among staff members that they felt might be a contributing factor to the issues raised by Dupuis.
Cugnet said the health region has already been in contact with the family and would like to meet with them further to discuss the concerns, something she noted they appear open to. They have also begun a preliminary investigation.
"The manager (of ERNH) is well aware of the concerns and she has already started doing some investigation," said Cugnet who added that the process when an issue arises, is to have someone in their quality care department to set up a meeting with all of the applicable parties.
However, because the Mack family has raised some conflict of interest concerns regarding the local quality care employee, Cugnet said they have given the case to another SCHR employee. They have also decided to bring in the provincial quality co-ordinator as a third party observer.
"We want a home-like environment for our residents that they feel secure in when they are being looked after, not just for the residents themselves but also for the families as well. We have always tried to have that environment of communication between the family and the staff.
"Our objective is to continue on with that and hopefully improve it and in this case obviously things haven't been working in terms of communication. It's unfortunate to have to go through this venue to get through this, but the family were aware that we had contacted them already and wanted to talk to them."
While speaking to The Mercury, both Dupuis and the former ERNH employee said the majority of workers at the long-term care facility are terrific caregivers and that a small group of employees are responsible for any problems. It was also noted the group has created a culture of intimidation that has stopped some employees from speaking out.
Cugnet said for Sun Country to tackle any problems, they need their employees to come forward and alert them to any issues whether it be abuse or bullying in the workplace.
"We have an expectation from all the staff themselves that if they see something that could be perceived as abusive or is abusive, that they have to report that immediately and report it to the manager or even on weekends report it to the senior manager on call so that things can be set into place right away," she said.
"We have done several bullying and harassment sessions with all the staff at Estevan Regional and they are not the only facility — we do that at other sites as well. But it's better if you have particulars so if a staff (member) comes forward and talks to us and says 'Jane Smith, I saw her doing this.' It's much better for us to be having these one-to-one conversations with our staff and then going through that process because there is a set process with how we deal with harassment and bullying in the workplace as well. It is better when you can sit down with that particular staff and have those discussions because then you are targeting and really focusing on the people that appear to be bullying."
Cugnet added if a staff member feels they cannot go to their immediate supervisors with concerns about issues such as bullying, she would encourage that person to move up the ladder or speak with their union.
"We need to know what is happening in the workplace, we are not on the floor all the time."
Although they are currently looking into the claims raised by the Mack family, Cugnet said they are keeping an open mind with their investigation and will broaden the scope if needed. She added they would like to tackle the matter immediately.
"We want to be doing this right now," she said.
Further Concerns Raised
Since last week's article appeared there has been a sharp reaction from the public on both sides of the matter.
It also prompted another former ERNH staff member to come forward and say she also witnessed many of the same issues raised by the anonymous source quoted in the June 6 article.
"The anonymous employee that came forward nailed it right on the head about the threats, the intimidation. There are a handful of people that make it difficult for everybody," said Melany Jordan who worked at ERNH on three different occasions over the past 16 years. "They dare people to report. I'm sure in their hearts they know they are doing wrong but why they continue to do it and why they keep getting away with it is unknown. I reported the one person twice on my own and both times I was told to watch my back."
A licensed praticial nurse, Jordan, who is the granddaughter of Mary Mack said she has harboured concerns about the actions of some employees at ERNH for a number of years. However the recent issues regarding her grandmother have prompted her to come forward.
She said during her time at the nursing home, she witnessed cases of verbal abuse as well as other issues.
"You would hear things down the hallway that you wish weren't happening but it is reality," said Jordan. "You hear from other staff, you hear from residents about the things they do and say … it's awful."
Jordan added the actions of the small group pollute the waters at ERNH and make things tough for the employees who are there to do their best for the residents.
"I really hope out of this that staff do realize it is their role to report things like this for the patients, for the other staff. It's the right thing to do.
"I have been working in health care for 16 years and there is a code of silence where you stick up for your co-workers but I have reported doctors even. It just can't happen, it's not right. Like was said, if it was happening to a child people would be outraged."
Asked why she feels the group of employees is allowed to operate without any perceived repercussions, Jordan said she feels management likely does not want these employees working for them but need people to come forward with any issues they witness to give them the "tools" to properly deal with the matter.
"There should be zero tolerance for abuse. It's been going on this long and it's the same people over and over again. It's not always physical, a lot of it is verbal … threats, intimidation, refusing to change them, refusing to toilet them. That is abuse, blatant abuse."
Asked what she would like to see happen at ERNH, Jordan said staff morale and the overall environment would greatly improve if a few people were removed from the equation. She also feels there is a need for more staff education.