05/16/2012 11:15 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Ont. nursing homes need flexibility to handle abusive staff, residents: report

TORONTO - Ontario needs specialized nursing homes for aging residents with behavioural problems if it hopes to curb abuse in long-term care facilities, an industry group said Wednesday.

Highly trained workers _ and more of them _ are required to handle patients with complex needs and ensure the safety of both residents and staff, the Long-Term Care Task Force on Resident Care and Safety said in its inaugural report.

The task force was formed late last year after media reports exposed widespread abuse and neglect in the province's nursing homes.

It issued 18 recommendations Wednesday, including several calling for government action and funding.

Gail Donner, the group's chair, said part of its purpose is to restore public confidence in the quality of care available for seniors as the population ages.

"I think there's raised awareness in the public of the changing demographics," she said.

"The face of the residents in long-term care ... is changing" from a relatively healthy and homogenous population to one that includes a mix of complicated and often conflicting needs, she said.

Health Minister Deb Matthews said the province would "work very closely" with the nursing home sector to ensure residents receive the "loving compassionate care that they deserve."

But she wouldn't commit to implementing the recommendations, many of which would involve additional funding.

Critics argued political sluggishness has undermined previous efforts to overhaul long-term care.

"We have known for years _ and coroner's inquests and reports have shown us _ what the issues are and what needs to be done," Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the Ontario Nurses Association, said in a statement.

"What's needed is to implement these recommendations," she said.

There are 634 long-term care homes in Ontario, totalling 77,933 beds. Some are run by municipalities, some by hospitals, and others by private for- or non-profit organizations. All fall under the purview of the province, which regulates and funds their operation.

Government data show 2,773 incidents considered abuse or neglect were reported in 2011, though that doesn't mean the allegations were founded.

More than half _ 57 per cent _ were related to clashes between residents, something many in the industry blame partly on the lack of specialized care for those whose condition leads them to act out.

About a third, or 33 per cent, were confrontations between staff and residents, and two per cent involved visitors and residents.

Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said adding dedicated units for residents with behavioural problems is "extremely important" to improving safety.

Tensions can arise when a confused resident accidentally wanders into another's room, for example, and spark a potentially dangerous dispute, she said.

The Alzheimer Society of Ontario said the report "sends a clear message that we will no longer tolerate the mistreatment of Ontario seniors, especially those with dementia, who are at an even greater risk."

Other recommendations include:

- Forming a committee that includes management, staff, residents and family members in each facility to identify and discuss problems;

- Addressing work-life issues to improve staff morale and help boost recruitment;

- Educating residents and families on topics related to preventing abuse and neglect;

- Creating "coaching teams" to assist nursing homes with consistently poor performance;

- Streamlining reporting requirements that divert attention from direct patient care;

- And publicly reporting on any changes brought about by the report every six months for three years.