05/28/2013 11:31 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Joseph Cummins, London Hospital Patient, Told To Clean Own Toilet

An 80-year-old man hospitalized with pneumonia was told to clean his own toilet, according to a story in the Toronto Star.

Joseph Cummins was a patient at the London Health Sciences Centre over the Easter weekend when he had what he called an "accident" in the toilet, which he was told to clean up himself when he sought help.

He told the Star when he looked for staff , he could only find a food services worker, who told him "I had to learn to control my bowels . . . and then I did my best to clean it up."

Cummins said he mopped up the floor with towels.

“I was a bit upset . . . it was no easy matter because at that time I was crippled," he said.

He also said the dirty towels sat in a bag for 10 to 12 hours before they were dealt with by staff, and that he found threads of fecal matter in the grout of the floor tile.

After his hospital stay ended, he complained, but didn't hear a response.

Carol Young-Ritchie, the London Health Sciences Centre's vice-president of patient care, told CTV News London the five-week delay in response was "way too long."

However, a later statement from the hospital claims the incident never happened.

The hospital's vice-president of community and stakeholder relations, Tony LaRocca said in a written statement that the hospital has "no record of any such incident ever occurring at our hospital ... we would never ask a patient to do their own cleaning," the Star reported. He also defended the cleaning staff, who he said "can be quickly dispatched to deal with any clean-ups."

Cummins, who is a professor emeritus of genetics at Western University, said he thinks the hospital's lack of attention to the mess is a health issue.

“The obvious problem seems to be ignored for fiscal reasons but I see the problem leading to spread of disease and antibiotic resistance. I say that with some authority, having taught microbial genetics and microbiology for many years at Western. I believe that exposing the problem will save lives," he told CTV.

The story reached the Ontario provincial legislature Monday, when NDP Leader Andrea Horwath brought up Cummins' claim as evidence of what she said was hospital staff cuts and under-funding affecting care, the London Free Press reported.

Health Minister Deb Matthews didn't respond to Horwath, but defended the government's policy on health care.

“We’re on the right path. We have more to do, for sure, but I will never stop to continue to improve the quality in our hospitals,” said Matthews.

Later she told the Star the incident was "unacceptable."

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