Staff at the Wexford Seniors Residence Long Term Care facility in the city's east end had concerns about the 72-year-old accused, the Canadian Union of Public Employees says.
"It's been reported to us from staff that as early as last week they reported in a labour management meeting to the administration of that home of their concerns about the violent nature of this individual," CUPE spokeswoman Candace Rennick told CBC News.
Peter Roy Brooks, 72, was arrested late Wednesday at the seniors home near Lawrence Avenue East and Pharmacy Avenue, and has been charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault.
A 72-year-old woman, Joycelyn Dickson, died after the assault, Toronto police said. A 91-year-old woman, Lourdes Missier, was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Missier called her family immediately after the attack, her daughter told CBC News.
"I heard her screaming, and she's saying, 'I got attacked.' And, 'I'm bleeding, I'm bleeding," Flavia Missier said.
Her mother suffered broken bones, and had bruises all over her head and body. She believes her mother survived because she somehow found the strength to fight off her attacker.
"She was trying to defend herself. That's why she didn't get killed. And when the guy came … she was trying to defend herself."
Understaffing a problem, victim's daughter says
The incident has reopened the debate on the safety issues inside care facilities in Toronto, with personal care workers, their union and advocates calling on the provincial government to legislate staffing levels and carry out more inspections of the homes.
Health Minister Deb Matthews issued a statement, calling the slaying a "disturbing incident."
"If there is anything that can be learned from this incident, you have my commitment that action will be taken,” Matthews said.
People who care for seniors say they do all they can to keep them safe, but the lack of staff is a continuing problem.
"The under-staffing in long-term care is ridiculous," said Miranda Ferrier, who has worked for many years as a personal support worker and is president of the Ontario Personal Support Worker Association.
At any given time, Ferrier said, a single personal support worker can be caring for up to 15 patients.
"The PSWs are run off their feet. They try their best. We can only be so many places at the same time," she told CBC News.
Missier is recovering from her injuries, back at Wexford, her daughter said.
"We feel okay because Wexford, we like the place. And that person is bad, not everybody is bad," she said.
She said the residence is understaffed.
"[That's] an issue there. They need more staff, I believe," she said.
Friend of victim says residents were afraid
Naomi D'Sousa, a friend of Missier's and Dickson's and whose mother had lived at the home, told CBC News that several residents were scared of Brooks and complained to staff.
"We liked him, but at the same time, we were afraid of him because there were moments he would react to anything we said," D'Sousa said.
She said she hopes her friends' ordeal brings more attention to flaws in the long-term care system.
Rennick also said that the Wexford Seniors Residence has come under investigation before for complaints. These complaints included residents not getting help going to the bathroom when they needed it, and staff members seen rushing breakfast by shoving food into a resident's mouth, she said.
CUPE says it has questions about the staffing levels at seniors homes and it wants the provincial government to do something about it.
"We want assurances from the health minister that she will be taking immediate steps to prevent similar deaths, by making all seniors residences safer through a legislated care standard that will ensure increased staffing levels," said Rennick in a statement released Friday morning.
Donna Rubin, who advocates for better seniors housing, says there are several big challenges those homes are facing.
As the population ages the system is faced with more complex care issues, including more cases of Alzheimer's and dementia and not enough specialized workers.
"It's a pressure cooker environment," she said.