09/10/2013 02:41 EDT | Updated 11/10/2013 05:12 EST

Mice bites prompt minister to tour senior care homes

Reports that mice bit a dementia patient on the face in a Lethbridge care home has prompted Alberta's health minister to order a tour of long-term care homes across the province.

Fred Horne asked Associate Minister of Seniors George VanderBurg to tour the homes this fall while holding informal meetings with staff at some of the facilities.

The tour was prompted by allegations from the organization Friends of Medicare that a mouse nibbled on a dementia patient on Sept. 1 at St. Therese Villa, a long-term care home in Lethbridge.

"What has concerned me is the fact that it has been reported that employees – staff in St. Therese – have tried to bring this issue and other issues to the attention of management and their concerns have not been heard," Horne told reporters on Tuesday.

Horne said the tour will be an informal information gathering process and will not result in a formal report. Staff will be asked to identify any issues and offer solutions.

Inspection teams from Alberta Health Services and his department are in Lethbridge investigating the conditions at St. Therese Villa, which is operated by Covenant Health, a Catholic organization that has service contracts with the provincial health-care provider.

Ruth Adria, chair of the Elder Advocates Society of Alberta, welcomes the investigation, but says Alberta's Protection for Persons in Care Act doesn't go far enough.

"This patient, essentially, was assaulted," she said. "You can be scalded, you can be raped, you can be seriously dehydrated. No one is ever held accountable. Charges are never laid and that has to change."

Adria says the care of frail, dependent elderly people is the greatest moral social issue of our time.

Union calls for minimum staffing levels

Glenn Scott, a vice-president with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents staff at the facility, said the health minister needs to take a close look at whether there is adequate funding to care for seniors in homes.

"There's been a lot of cuts to long-term care fundraising in the last year ... these funding cuts were made by him and the premier. He should be outraged. He should be doing an investigation. He should be looking at why these things are happening. I think the whole mouse incident could be a symptom of a bigger problem, which is a big-time cuts in long-term care for seniors in this province."

Scott is calling for minimum staffing levels in the facilities to ensure adequate care for the residents.