12/05/2012 05:02 EST | Updated 02/04/2013 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan told to boost personal care home checkups to ensure senior safety

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says it's working on a plan to improve how problems are handled at personal care homes after the provincial auditor said many concerns have gone unchecked for years.

Auditor Bonnie Lysyk said in a report this week that the Ministry of Health documented inspection results at personal care homes, but she said officials did not have a good system for tracking and following up on problems that were found.

Some of those problems included urgent safety issues like scalding hot water, medications not properly recorded or blocked fire exits.

"Without more frequent inspections of homes at high risk, vulnerable residents may be left in unsafe situations for long periods," she wrote.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said Wednesday that he accepted the auditor's findings.

"I think for anybody it's disappointing and discouraging to hear that we still have situations like that and that a better job needs to be done in following up on inspections that may have these deficiencies pointed out," said Duncan.

"I'm like anyone, you know if this is a member of my family or constituent, I want to make sure that they're living in the best possible conditions," he added.

"For our seniors and among the most vulnerable in our populations, we need to work better with the personal care homes to make sure that we don't have these situations in the future."

Part of the problem is that there's no central log for compliance issues. That means the ministry must rely on its staff to remember or search extensive paper records to outline the history of a particular home, according to the auditor's report.

The report makes five recommendations, including that high-risk personal care homes be inspected more frequently. It also says the ministry should publicly report inspection results.

"It could motivate prompt response from personal care homes and help to reduce the risk of improper care to these vulnerable residents," said the auditor.

Duncan said it's time to update systems so that licences and compliance issues are all done electronically.

He also said the government is looking at posting inspection results online so that people can see how personal care homes fared.

"Right now, in fact, under the legislation and the regulations, we cannot publicly report that. So we've already identified a way forward to be able to do that through changes to the regulations that we'll be bringing forward next year," said Duncan.

Saskatchewan has about 245 licensed personal care homes, which are privately owned facilities that provide housing, meals and personal care to seniors. About 3,200 people lived in personal care homes in 2011-2012.