ELDER ABUSE: With trillions of dollars in play family members and our legal system have created another plague infesting our long-term care homes
Some epochs stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. And folded inside each one is a year that is best forgot, like 2020.
For most of us, this has been the year of living dangerously, when a spiky-headed serial killer carried its deadly payload and left in its wake sickness, death and societal disruption. It also knee-capped our economy.
How gruesome to watch loved ones die alone in care homes, or rushed to hospitals and hooked up to ventilators, only to emerge in extreme cases seen around the world wrapped in body bags and piled high in refrigerated trucks. This danse macabre might make a great Stephen King storyline, but for many of us, it was too raw, and too real.
Now the virus is riding a second wave, unnerving all of us because there are no guarantees we’ll ever get back to normal.
We want guarantees. We want normal. But we also want the truth.
The Canadian Armed Forces had to be called into Brampton's Grace Manor
Alex Gibney is an American truth-teller, the great slayer of shibboleths. The Oscar-winning documentarian has taken on subjects as varied as Enron, scientology, even the House of Saud. Jigsaw Productions patiently puts together society’s most complicated puzzles.
Dirty Money is another Gibney gambit, part of Netflix’s investigative docuseries. It was an eye-opening, two-year, 11-episode project which took a deep dive into subjects as diverse as money laundering, drug trafficking, environmental pollution, and a host of other predatory financial practices. It reinforced the notion that malfeasance thrives when people stop paying attention.
The second-to-last episode of Year 2 was released by Netflix Canada earlier this year, just as the pandemic was wreaking havoc with our well-ordered lives. The timing was perfect, and the portraitures stunning. Entitled ‘Guardians, Inc.’, it fed off a 2017 New Yorker article by Rachel Aviv entitled, ‘How the Elderly Lose their Rights’. Her article, and Gibney’s doc, presaged the pandemic.
Guardians, Inc. discusses something sinister and all-encompassing: elder abuse. Episode 10’s release ran alongside the first wave of COVID-19 and added a cryptic side note to our ongoing and shameful treatment of the elderly.
This prompted one now retired Peel police officer, who works as an inspector in the retirement homes sector, to warn: “When I retired, I wanted to start my own company and call it, ‘Seniors Cover Your Assets’.” She wanted to look into a flawed registration process for powers of attorney (POA) "after seeing so many people trying to trump each other.”
This ex-police officer asked for anonymity because she operates as an investigator in a sector she feels is rife with abuse. The frustrating part, she said, is that simple legislative changes could make a real difference to our most vulnerable. “It was heartbreaking [while working with Peel police] to see a person’s children destroying them financially and putting them in a position where they cannot pay for their retirement home. I came across horrific cases, and in the worst, the senior died before the fraud bureau had completed the investigation. I argued with my detective that just because the victim died, there was still theft by the POA – which is a major criminal offence.”
Not pursuing prosecutions because cases are complicated, or dubbed family fights, or simply categorized as “crimes against money”, is a cop-out, she stated, and ignores the awful abuse, and the tragic consequences.
Her portfolio of horror stories includes a well-to-do Oakville woman who lost all her money, her two homes and her place in Florida when her adopted son was given POA. She ended up sick and penniless, living in a hostel.
Warehousing our seniors
The pandemic revealed many of our LTC homes as hell holes, super-spreaders of the novel coronavirus – agents of death. The numbers pouring out after the first wave were dizzying: By the end of June, a report issued by the Canadian Institute of Health Information said 81 percent of the deaths in Canada came from our LTC and retirement residences. There’s more: 72 percent of the dead were over 80, and 25 percent between 60 and 79.
The worry now is that a tsunami of aging boomers is now queuing up and this power-packed demographic might soon overwhelm a system already found wanting by a crisis summoning its strength for a second go-round here in the fall.
The virus killed over 1,800 in Ontario’s vast nursing home network the first time, and two in Peel region got a loud shout-out because they were called incubators for death and abuse: Camilla Care Community (Mississauga) and Grace Manor (Brampton).
Holland Christian Homes houses Grace Manor and Faith Manor on its Brampton campus
A recent headline in The Pointer – ‘Owner of Brampton care home sued for $20M in class action by families of loved ones impacted by Covid-19’ – drilled down on the ramifications to those who run these institutions, and those who lived in them. That lawsuit is against Holland Christian Homes (HCH), the private owners of Grace Manor. The charge is that it was not just the pandemic that caused the stomach-turning damage, but how this organization ailed over the years to provide adequate care to patrons – both inside and outside these homes. The company runs two care homes in one Brampton campus setting.
The publication learned that no statement of defence has yet been filed against the allegations. Gary Will, is managing partner of Will Davidson LLP, lead counsel in the case. His firm also filed a statement of claim on behalf of plaintiffs in late June against The Village of Erin Meadows, a Mississauga facility.
On September 10, a $25 million suit was filed against Camilla Care in Mississauga.
Other numbers (the sick and the dead) were dire during the first wave, but the anecdotes worse, a series of cryptic accounts that could have been penned by King, the master of fright.
The soldiers who were called in to triage the spiraling situation reported bug infestations, incidents of force feeding leading to “audible choking”, patients heard “crying for help with staff not responding”, residents going to bed with food lodged in their mouths and throats, bed sores, dirty catheters and syringes, lousy staff training, and a lack of personal protective equipment for staff and patrons.
Private facilities, we have learned, chronically under-staffed their “care” homes, a word now used with increasing scepticism.
The military report hit like a cluster bomb, and Guardians Inc. was exquisitely timed to provide the dark backing that this story needed to give it its reflective qualities, including how two plagues can actually overlap.
The Canadian Armed Forces found disturbing conditions at Grace Manor and other care homes in Ontario
This “warehousing” of seniors has been injected into our healthcare system, turning to ash the hopes of many elderly hoping to live their golden years in comfort and joy in retirement homes and LTC settings.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was shocked and angered by the military’s findings. He said he hated the fact our beloved elders, the men and women who built this province, had been victimized. The loss of life and the fact many died alone were horrific, but there was a strange duality in the province's response, and a decided lack of perspective.
ROI (return on investment) soon outstripped TLC (tender loving care) as a motivating factor in the expansion of our LTC system, which began in the late 1990s under former PC premier Mike Harris, opening it up for deregulation while easing up on rules and regulations. Scoring hefty profits during a healthcare crisis seems anathema to most of us, and only reinforces the gap between haves and never-have-enoughs – those in the tony high-end retirement homes, versus those in all the others. This created a galling conundrum: in early June, in the middle of all this sickness and death and economic insecurity, it was reported that three of the province’s private-sector nursing home companies (Chartwell, Sienna and Extendicare) paid out a tidy sum of $59 million in the quarterly reports to its shareholders. The three had paid out over $1.5 billion in dividends to shareholders over the past decade.
Harris, after he deregulated the sector, now serves as the Chairman of the Board for Chartwell. A year after the PCs lost power, following Harris’s decision to step down early, in 2004 he joined Chartwell, a company that grew to more than 15,000 employees across Canada, rapidly expanding in places like Ontario thanks to his deregulation of the sector.
The Ontario Health Coalition reported that: “Reading Chartwell’s 2019 annual report, its focus is clearly on its real estate portfolio, growth and on profit returns for investors. It’s about making money for shareholders, reporting income and growth, not about caring for seniors.”
The Toronto Star reported during the first wave of the pandemic that, “three of the largest for-profit nursing home operators in Ontario, which have had disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, have together paid out more than $1.5 billion in dividends to shareholders over the last decade.”
This total did not include $138 million in “executive compensation and $20 million in stock buybacks (a technique that can boost share prices)”.
The Star reported that Chartwell paid Harris $229,500 in 2019 and that he “had more than $7 million in Chartwell holdings” by the end of the year, including financial instruments similar to shares. So, like the company’s executives, Harris makes even more money as profits rise.
Failing to hire the proper number of staff to take care of elderly residents would have a direct benefit on profit margins.
You get the picture.
Covid-19 has democratized death. It hit both the private and public-sector facilities, but the former have performed far worse. In fact, 16 of the 20 deadliest LTCs in Ontario are for-profits, and Grace Manor (Brampton) and Camilla Care (Mississauga) added their names to this dark registry. Provincial ombudsman Paul Dubé launched an investigation and is asking if more inspectors and higher standards could have saved lives. Not surprisingly, shortly after taking office in 2018, the Doug Ford PCs quietly made cuts to the inspection regime for the long-term care sector.
And the latest signal that “care” has become a warped synonym for profit under this PC government, following the legacy of Harris, is news that Ford is pushing through legislation that will make it much harder to sue long-term care homes.
Former Ontario premier Mike Harris is chairman of the board of Chartwell Retirement Residences
On Tuesday, the PCs introduced the Bill that would provide liability protection to senior-care homes who make “an honest effort” to follow public health guidelines and laws. If it passes, which is a foregone conclusion with the PC’s powerful majority, plaintiffs would have to prove “gross negligence”, which, unlike general negligence, can be hard to confirm.
It was also reported that the Ontario government would not guarantee the health or safety of residents in long-term care homes. According to another legal document released recently, the sickness and death suffered by residents and called out in a proposed $600-million class-action suit against the worst hit long-term care homes filed in the summer on behalf of those who contracted COVID-19, is not the responsibility of the provincial government. The proposed suit, plus punitive damages, was filed in the Ontario Superior Court in June. It said patients and their families were “traumatized” and the province was slow to address chronic staff shortages. It failed to prevent staff from working in more than one facility and was slow in providing face masks and other personal protective equipment for front-line workers. It didn’t ensure ill residents were separated from others, as well, and compared other provincial responses to Ontario and found it lacking. The end result was “tragic.”
The provincial government has said it shouldn’t be held legally or financially responsible because there is no such thing as a long-term care system under its control, and therefore, it is not a guarantor of the residents’ health or safety.
This doesn’t bode well for a proposed deep dive into the system launched by the Ford government’s independent commission, which is supposed to hold all mismanaged facilities to “account.” This also puts into conflict the industry lobbyist, the Ontario Long Term Care Association, and those trying to protect seniors, like the Ontario Health Coalition. The OHC sent an open letter to Ford questioning his tardiness in waiting until the fall to call the commission, and warned that if it’s not fully independent and is stacked with too many long-term care operators or industry insiders, it will be nothing but a smokescreen which will further sicken Ontario residents.
A system already flawed
Guardians, Inc. argued that all this misses a bigger point: the system to protect our elders is already infected with bad laws, little police response, a tone-deaf judiciary, and a misinformed, and in some cases, corrupted public, including many of the family members who leave the elderly vulnerable to abuse.
It’s those “guardians from hell” or agents of “self-gain” that drove Gibney’s documentary. Wards (residents) are caught in a system that turns them into “legal ghosts.” Many are stripped bare of their power and money until they are left zombies, the walking dead.
Gibney’s exposé showed victims with sizable nest eggs being defrauded by their so-called guardians. These thieves have plenty of arrows in their quiver: straight theft, misuse of pension money or property, forcible changes to wills, or the sell-off of their personal property. Like birds of prey, these men and women are eager to pick the carcass clean, and in doing so, practice even more abuse: physical, psychological, or even kidnapping wards to keep them away from their loved ones.
Gibney’s examination is profound because it not only follows the money but identifies the weapon of choice: guardianship – better known as power of attorney (POA). The ex-police officer interviewed by The Pointer wants to write a book called, ‘If the public only Knew,’ and describes “how messed up the laws are, and how they tie the hands of the police and others in our society.”
She viewed Gibney’s film with alarm, and thinks the Canadian system isn’t quite as bad as the U.S. But when elders are under assault from a virus, they don’t need another worry, one that can inflict more pain, fiscal and psychological.
The Substitute Decisions Act governs over those not mentally capable of making certain decisions about their own property or personal care. In 90 percent of the cases, the system works, but the seductive lure of money opens up the possibility of fraud, and that can lead to profound consequences, all negative.
The shortcomings are this: police fraud squads are overloaded with cases; the courts too often favour the rights of the POA over the wishes of wards, or those closest to them; the banks are stymied because privacy rules don’t allow the loved one of seniors the power to scrutinize and expose the mismanagement of their money – unlike credit card companies or banks that can ‘red light’ possible fraud when these cards are compromised.
Each province has different rules and regulations, and Ottawa has shown no inclination to create a pan-Canada system to protect a senior’s assets. Potential POAs are given little information on the system they are entering, but few seniors know that when they choose a POA, this will be the most significant document they ever sign.
Why aren’t there more people in the lawyer’s office when this document is signed, and why aren’t more people designated to take care of these funds? Why, in some cases, are family members shut off from viewing financial or medical records of their loved ones?
The police need a mechanism to search for evidence of fraud in real time, before the damage is done. The courts need laws to protect seniors, not empower rogue POAs.
Under the provincial government’s Ministry of the Attorney General, The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee delivers a unique and diverse range of services that safeguard the legal, personal and financial interests of certain private individuals and estates. It offers a Power of Attorney kit easy accessible through the ministry’s website, which states: “Power of Attorney for Personal Care – the person you name can make decisions about your health care, housing and other aspects of your personal life (such as meals and clothing) if you become mentally incapable of making these decisions.”
The details and direction obviously are not enough, and this raises the ire of those who see the abuse. Too often, seniors are coerced into entering POA arrangements, or do so despite being capable of overseeing their own interests.
The Ontario Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility is run by Raymond Cho (Scarborough—Rouge River), who knows the Public Guardians office is large, but not large enough – literally swamped with cases. The Province has been pressured to invest in the office and hire more inspectors. The police have to see potential fraud for what it is, a major crime. And the legal system can’t be complicit, either, because gaining (and keeping) control over an elder is easier than anyone might suspect.
The predators who drive these shifty takeovers, don’t see a ward as a person, but an ATM machine. Guardianship is too often about control – taking it from the victim, and giving it to themselves. Gibney says our laws are too obtuse – prejudicial towards POAs, and not the other way around. As Forbes magazine observed: “Once guardianship is imposed, there are few safeguards in place to protect the wards from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Predators learn how to game the system.” These are reference to the U.S. system, but research has shown similar glaring shortcomings exist in Canada.
Hundreds of cases of elder abuse are reported to Peel Regional Police each year, and they are on the rise. According to Elder Abuse Ontario, the number of seniors in the Region of Peel is increasing at three times the rates of the rest of Ontario and Canada.
Peel police’s fraud unit recently added an appendage to its oversight which now focuses on the crime – hoping to protect the coerced. It casts a wary eye at fraudsters and profiteers, plus those who abuse for non-monetary reasons.
In January of this year, Brampton lawyer Shawn Kelly Campbell, 63, was charged with allegedly withholding more than $3 million in inheritance money. Peel Police said an investigation began when several unrelated victims stepped forward with complaints to the Law Society of Ontario. It said Campbell didn’t disperse funds in trust accounts to clients after the death of their loved ones. Police said there were 13 alleged victims, maybe more. The accused operated a law office in the Brampton area specializing in family law, real estate, wills and estates. He was charged with one count of defrauding the public based on the multiple allegations, and later appeared at a bail hearing.
A family in crisis
The Pointer recently caught up with a family caught in the throes of this crisis. Because there are ongoing and unsolved legal and care issues, the names of those involved have been changed. The Pointer conducted in-person and over-the-phone interviews, and was given important documentation to use in this story and all the identities have been confirmed.
This summer, we met at length with a woman we’ll call Cindy, who was battling to help her mother (Helen, 86) enjoy the final days of her life. Both are long-time Brampton residents, and mothers of three daughters.
Cindy said Helen had cancer, was silenced by dementia, and had been the product of systemic abuse. She had been a resident of Grace Manor for the past four years. Like children of elderly parents, Cindy is caught up in a role-reversal: spending most of her days mothering her mother – cleaning and feeding and visiting her as often as possible. She has filed at least a dozen complaints about her care to the Ministry of Health.
Helen’s journey from vibrant senior to abuse victim didn’t begin when she became “trapped” in Grace Manor (Cindy’s description). In 2016, age 82, she was assaulted in the underground of her Brampton condo by her common-law boyfriend of 17 years. She suffered severe damage: broken right wrist, fractured pelvis, chipped tooth, and plenty of deep bruising. He was charged and convicted of aggravated assault.
In the days before the incident, Helen chose a younger sibling of her mother to be her POA, making Cindy the alternate while her uncle was given ultimate authority. The POA would revert to the alternate if he became incapacitated, left the country, or died.
Helen remained in Brampton Civic for seven weeks recovering from wounds – both physical and psychological. Cindy had no say in the home care choices made by the POA, her own uncle, and was “horrified” when she saw the conditions her mother was forced to live under. The POA disputes this narrative and told The Pointer nothing Cindy has requested would be any different from what he is doing – accepting the fact that she is the daughter.
Cindy supplied The Pointer with a full synopsis and documentation of Helen’s four years with Holland Christian Homes, owners of Grace Manor. She reminisced about bringing her mother home for a weekend. She was tearful and questioned her choice of POA. Cindy reported her mother said this when she was returned to her care home: “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
But Cindy was powerless to make any changes under the POA agreement.
The conditions at Grace Manor were horrid, said Cindy, who began to document it, taking pictures of her mother’s worsening physical condition. Some of these issues were captured in tone and depth by the military report.
Pictures of Helen showing injuries, open sores and neglected personal hygiene
Cindy felt angry and helpless. No one seemed to care. Her synopsis makes for hard reading, and the pictures of her mother’s injuries are chilling. She hit her head, requiring seven stitches. She had a brain bleed that went undiagnosed for a whole day. Her toenails were allowed to grow long and coiled into talons. There were so many back-and-forth trips to the hospital. Then came minor strokes, early stage dementia, and a year-long problem with a woman’s issue that led to constant bleeding. Helen was finally sent to Credit Valley Hospital’s oncology unit where they found a lumpen mass – possible cancer. Yet Cindy still doesn’t know if it was cancer because she still was denied access to her mother’s medical records. Her finances were also hidden from the family, except the uncle.
In a phone interview with The Pointer, he called Cindy’s reportage closer to fiction than fact. The POA said the daughter is “a thorn in everyone’s side [at the care home].”
While these charges and counter-charges are complicated and the stuff of family disputes, one of Cindy’s sisters backs up her claims against the POA in an email copied to The Pointer. “I think it’s time to face your own failure as POA,” she wrote to him.
The other sister in this drama is supportive of the POA, which only makes it more difficult to decipher this family’s healthcare crisis.
During her stay at Grace Manor, Cindy thought her mother needed a companion, someone to fill the hours when she couldn’t be there. She asked a long-time friend of the family we’ll call Katharine. She received payment for her duties from Cindy and her sister who now lives outside the country. Katherine brought “a lively, positive and joyful component to my mom’s life,” said Cindy.
Katherine found the care at the LTC facility dispiriting, lacking in joy, and with little stimulation for the residents. She wondered often what went on when she was not around to monitor her friend’s care? She pointed to the Butterfly Home Project in Mississauga as a model that should be followed at all care homes. It works closely with Dementia Care Matters to create a more personal approach to complex needs, to engage residents. It is all about dignity and creating the right atmospherics.
The Pointer reached out to Ken Rawlins, the CEO of Holland Christian Homes, which owns and operates Grace Manor.
He was asked about the allegations laid out by Cindy and informed about the concern over the lack of care received, according to the daughter. He was also asked about the arrangement with the POA, and the current system which can potentially shut out family members, while placing seniors at the whim of those who have legal power over their lives.
“Thank you for reaching out. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your inquiry,” Rawlins promptly replied this week.
“As always, the health and safety of the residents and staff in our homes remains our top priority. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed our organization the opportunity to prove our commitment to providing a supportive, secure and caring environment that offers high quality care to our residents. As part of that commitment, continuous improvement is integral to any agency, such as Holland Christian Homes, that places the health, safety and wellbeing of residents and staff at the forefront of its operation.”
“Holland Christian Homes recognizes the rights of individuals to share their concerns through litigation. It is also important that all involved have the chance to present information to the court, which then thoughtfully studies, measures and determines if a concern permits certification.”
Rawlins pointed out the company does not have the same revenue structure as many private facilities.
“Holland Christian Homes is a not-for-profit organization. Throughout the pandemic, we have and continue to work collaboratively with our partners, in health care and government, to ensure the health and safety of our residents and staff and to comply with all directives.”
Regarding the issues around the POA, he offered the email address for the Ontario Long-Term Care Association and directed The Pointer to contact the Ministry of the Attorney General regarding specific questions around the POA in Cindy and Helen’s situation.
Helen’s POA eventually had her companion and privately hired care-giver removed.
Cindy’s files include a letter from her mother’s doctor of 30 years expressing Helen’s wishes to change her POA. The doctor said her patient had a good understanding of the reasons for her decision and the implications.
Her POA, who is her younger brother, said he receives a tiny amount to conduct his duties, and insists he has never profited from his position and will not profit from his sister’s will.
Cindy’s files include a back-and-forth with the director of care at Grace Manor, who oversaw decision-making after her mother was rushed to Brampton Civic during one of her many medical emergencies, and the POA was out of the country at the time. She explained that the POA had no authority to appoint someone else to monitor her care, but in fact, this is what he did. This was a clear violation of Cindy’s role as the POA substitute, she insisted.
Another complication to this story: Helen’s lawyer is Shawn Campbell, the same Brampton man who was charged in January by Peel police.
In 2018, Cindy went to Superior Court to seek installment as her mom’s POA. Instead, she said the Justice admonished her because her case lacked substance – even though she had her files and was fully backed by her sister and her mother’s care-giving companion. In a letter Cindy sent to the Justice a year after his judgement, she asked for a variance since new facts had emerged about Campbell who, she said, was at the time of the hearing, under investigation by the Law Society of Ontario. She said the lawyer continued to provide service to her mother (through the POA) while under suspension following the court’s judgement. Cindy asked the Justice to conduct a full investigation and wanted three more things: a mental competency test of her mother’s POA; access to her medical records; and a complete investigation into her mother’s bank records and investments.
Everything she asked for was denied.
In January of this year, Cindy was summoned to 22 division in Brampton in response to a past charge of fraud brought against her by the POA, her own uncle. The police found no evidence, and quickly dismissed the case. She then unpacked her file and showed a litany of abuses she recorded against her mother while at Grace Manor. The police sent an elder abuse officer to check on her complaints but determined there was nothing to investigate. Weeks later, the pandemic struck, and weeks after that, the military took over operations at Grace Manor. Soldiers found plenty wrong, scandalously wrong.
Cindy reported at the time of her interviews with The Pointer that her mother’s time on earth was now measured in days (disputed by the POA). As her dementia advanced and her memories peeled away, her day-to-day functions – walking, eating and communicating – became more difficult. What once were molehills, were now mountains, said Cindy.
Both she and Helen’s former companion detailed their concerns to The Pointer in a sit-down interview.
Katherine: “The military report confirmed what Cindy has been saying for four years. I also filed numerous complaints to the Province about abuse. But follow-up takes weeks to months. There are no consequences.”
Cindy: “I’ve found there is no one out there to help you. The Ministry of Health is broken.”
Katherine: “The Province has allowed this to happen for 20 years. It’s time to take out the profit motive, it’s not working. More cuts to service means more profits. Take away that option. Connect these homes with the OHIP plan.”
Cindy: “Everything goes through the POA, who also controls the money. It’s all about the money.”
Katherine (who once lived in the U.S.): “Systems? There are no systems. It’s just a bunch of wild west banshees looking to make money. I keep saying to myself, ‘Oh my god, who allowed this to happen?’ Why is the POA given the power of God? Why not set a system of three POAs? Or anything, that works better than the current system?”
The Netflix documentary dissected the POA problem and gives viewers fair warning that elder abuse will have massive implications for our society and might upend our future care models.
One of the media stories used in the Netflix documentary
Demographics show the boomer bulge crashing toward dependency as trillions of dollars in inheritance is set to change hands to younger generations who did nothing to earn their parents’ money. Many of these children are now saddled with debt, of their own doing, and waiting to take control of funds that currently don’t belong to them. In some cases, it’s too late: the transfer of power, money and legal decision-making has already occurred.
Many seniors have already lost control over their own lives.
The Substitute Decisions Act is provincial, but should be federal, with the same rules and regulations across Canada. Banks need the tools to throw up red alerts when suspicious economic activity is taking place inside an elder’s bank account – whomever has been designated as the overseer. This information should be sent directly to the local police, and its fraud squad.
Most POAs are dedicated and take a sober view of their responsibilities. But some don’t, and this heightens the possibility of fraud. Some act with virtual immunity because our system is soft, replete with loopholes that allow abuse. This, more than a vicious virus, can be the final and most fatal blow to our elders and their families.
Too much power is placed in the hands of a POA, especially when an elder makes a bad decision when choosing one. They have little recourse if they make a mistake, and often a bad decision mutates into malfeasance, and horrid acts are committed against our most vulnerable. It’s often too late to compensate elders when this fraud is exposed.
Elder abuse is now a Category 6 crisis across Canada. The pandemic has shaken the foundations of our LTC system. The public is demanding change. There needs to be a new set of checks and balances, with all parties coming to the table to reform the system. Why is the Ford government holding an independent commission, and not the federal government?
Thankfully the pros in our military exposed to the public the physical and emotional abuse in our care homes. The fiscal abuse might go deeper, and as Gibney reveals in his documentary, abuse thrives when no one is paying attention.
The ex-Peel police officer turned retirement home inspector, is paying attention. She said, “I hate to see our elderly suffer, but they can’t fix it once they’re old... People have to become aware at a younger age of the difficulties they might encounter when they reach old age. They have to learn about all this stuff at the age 40 or 50 or 60, not when they get sick and go into a care home. The decision they make when they pick a POA is probably the most important one they’ll ever make in their lives.”
Family members and loved ones are paying attention, too. Cindy continued to visit her mother often and continued to take inventory of her issues with her care home. She knew her mother was physically and mentally broken, but she didn’t know if her situation was actually far worse. Was she in financial distress, too? As the alternate POA, she wasn’t allowed to know about her health, or her finances. What’s worse, she was left powerless to find out.
Government officials seem left with two choices, both costly: do nothing, or make real reforms, which involves all sectors of our society, especially the cops, the courts and our financial institutions.
When it comes to the novel coronavirus, there is no endgame yet, because there is no vaccine, and even that will not be a cure-all. But there is definitely no cure when it comes to a deeply flawed system that treats seniors like products in a factory. This undermines basic values of care and empathy. Too many of the individuals who built and shaped so much in our societies are now being treated like inconveniences.
Helen didn’t have a safe or happy passage through the last four years of her life. She was silenced by dementia, and isolated by the ongoing circumstances of the pandemic. She died recently, with Cindy and one of her granddaughters there as she took her last breath. Her daughter believes she died of cancer and didn’t get proper medical attention. But she doesn’t really know.
Because of our system of guardianship, she might never know.
Her mother’s story ends in bitter irony, too. Helen was always diligent in her work life. She held down two jobs most of the time, and was extra careful with her money, hoping the hundreds of thousands she saved, would result in a happy retirement. She even built up an impressive investment portfolio.
One of her favourite sectors to pick stocks was the private companies in the long-term care sector…
Limbo land: The complicated world of elder abuse
By Rick Drennan
The pre-pandemic system that fostered high levels of abuse in Ontario’s long-term care homes was, by design, byzantine, a dogged set of anarchic laws, rules and regulations, and populated by organizations that were supposed to offer support for residents and their loved ones.
For those eager to dig down into the legalese of our care provider sector, check out the Retirement Homes Act (2010), at e-laws.gov.on.ca.
The Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA) partners with Consumer Protection Ontario and allows anyone with complaints to contact them. A Bill of Rights for residents is based on the 2007 Care Homes Act, and this is the one placed on the wall at Grace Manor in Brampton. It offers residents 27 rights, and the military found many of them were being violated.
The province has a grand ‘Strategy to Combat Elder Abuse’ with multiple offices in the province, including one in GTA West. The Senior Safety Line to report elder abuse (www.eapon.ca) operates 24/7, offering resources, referrals and support in over 150 languages.
There’s also a long-term care ACTION line (1-866-434-0144) and the Peel Elder Abuse Prevention Network (PEAPN) which connects associations like the Catholic Family Services of Peel Dufferin (Brampton), and Chartwell Heritage Residency (Mississauga). The elder abuse arm of Peel Police’s fraud squad investigates cases of financial, physical, or emotional mistreatment, and Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario offers a free Seniors Safety Line (1-866-299-1011).
Innovative work is being done at Sheridan College and its Centre for Elder Research, under faculty member Dr. Kirsten Madsen. In conjunction with Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario, the work is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and aims to support the development of best practices and strategies for our diverse population.
The senior bullying project team also hosted four think tanks across Ontario in 2019.
In early March of this year, Sheridan College held a webinar on senior bullying, and on April 27, it announced the launch of its anti-bullying toolkit.
Results from a ‘Seniors Bullying in Ontario Survey’ showed 57 percent of participants said they were bullied, and 55 percent witnessed bullying in the past four months. "Anecdotally, we knew that bullying between older adults was a serious issue, and that people working with older adults were desperately asking for strategies to tackle bullying, but now we have relevant data on what is happening in Ontario, and helpful research-informed strategies to address it,” said Dr. Madsen.
As recently as June of this year, the Ontario Co-operative Association responded to the care-home crisis by asking: What if our seniors and their attendants were given the power that comes with ownership? What if the people who live and work in the homes make the decisions about the best way to care for everyone? Would the current system improve significantly?
Also in June, the Justice Centre sent the Minister of Long-Term Care, Merrilee Fullerton, a letter demanding Queen’s Park end the isolation of elders at LTC homes. It was cruel, draconian, and leads to the mistreatment of family members, it said. It was also a clear breach of section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and seniors were suffering loneliness, depression, anxiety, neglect, lack of exposure to the outdoors and physical exercise. Worst of all, there was no loving interaction with family. This resulted in a decided loss of dignity. It was a violation of the Residents’ Bill of Rights, and the infringements were “inexcusable, unjustifiable and inhumane.”
The response to a spike in care-home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic reached a lower level of depravity when Dan Patrick, Texas’s alt-right lieutenant governor, virtually promoted a death cult. He said there are more important things than living, in the name of saving the economy for others.
He said people killed by the virus were expendable, especially those in elder care homes. In other words, they needed to take one for the team.
In Patrick’s world view, you build ghost ships and fill them with the elderly, then launch them into limbo.
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