POLITICS

Ombudsman's office receives about 35 complaints related to long-term care

01/27/2015 11:22 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Saskatchewan's ombudsman says her office has received about 35 complaints related to long-term care facilities since November.

Mary McFadyen began investigating cases of alleged mistreatment at seniors facilities after the death of a 74-year-old woman whose family said she was neglected.

Margaret Warholm lived at Santa Maria Senior Citizens Home in Regina until October 2013. Medical records show Warholm lost almost 14 kilograms in a year and had compression fractures in her vertebrae. She also had a large bedsore on her back that her family believes could have been prevented.

McFadyen said Tuesday that the complaints have included poor quality of care, low staff-to-resident ratios, a lack of accountability and poor communication.

"Our investigation is well underway," she said, adding that her office has conducted various interviews. "Certainly our goal is that (with) the information that we gather, we will be able to look at issues affecting the quality of long-term care in general across Saskatchewan."

She added that government officials, as well as workers at Santa Maria, have been co-operative.

McFadyen said her office received about 14 complaints in 2013 related to long-term care, compared to 35 in the last two months.

"There is a need for people to have a mechanism to bring forth complaints and know where to go when they have issues they want to address," she said.

McFadyen said one priority will be to look at whether there are processes in place for families to raise their concerns.

"These are vulnerable people and we have to make sure our families are safe and secure and being cared for in long-term care facilities," she said.

The Opposition has been calling for minimum-care standards as well as for the creation of a seniors advocate. NDP Leader Cam Broten has repeatedly said understaffing is an issue in homes across the province.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan has said guidelines already exist and formal standards aren't necessary.

He said Tuesday he's looking forward to the ombudsman's recommendations.

"Within what is expected to be a challenging year fiscally for the province, we will certainly look to address them as best we can," he said.

Broten said McFadyen's initial findings are "very telling."

"It matches up very much with what I've been hearing for months and months from Saskatchewan families," he said. "I don't know what it will take for this government to wake up.

"It doesn't need to wait for the final report, we already have a very good sense of what is wrong."

Since November, the NDP has raised several cases of alleged neglect. They included a 74-year-old woman in Saskatoon who allegedly went three months without a bath; a 76-year-old man who was able to leave a Rosetown facility twice unnoticed, once when it was -11 C; and an 87-year-old woman who fell while being moved in Regina and cut her back. A coroner's report said the fall likely hastened her death.

"I think 35 (complaints) is really the tip of the iceberg in terms of families who have concerns and want to share," Broten said.

Santa Maria also came under fire when employees were suspended after assault allegations led police to conduct a criminal investigation.

John Kelly, the centre's executive director, said last week that staff is investigating individual complaints and the centre is open to any recommendations to improve care.

The home has hired a care consultant who looks at specific concerns, he added.

McFadyen plans to complete her investigation in the spring.