10/01/2013 01:03 EDT | Updated 12/01/2013 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan sets up $10-million fund for urgent issues at long-term care homes

REGINA - A review of long-term care in Saskatchewan is raising concerns that patients are not getting enough baths and residents are soiling themselves because there isn't enough staff to help them get to the toilet.

The findings in the 311-page document released Tuesday are based on tours of long-term care facilities by CEOs in each health region.

Comments in one review of a Saskatoon Health Region facility said: "30, 40, 50, 60, 90 minutes go by waiting to go to the bathroom, very great loss of dignity when you have to just go to the bathroom in your pad."

The same review continued: "'My husband was taught when he was a child not to pee his pants, and now they are telling him to just go in his pants.' He tries to go to the bathroom by himself (but) they tell him he is at risk of falling."

The findings are "dismaying, heartbreaking and, in some cases, details that quite frankly left me angry," said Health Minister Dustin Duncan.

"Some of the issues cited, such as a lack of privacy for residents, room size and food quality, for example, speak to an overall quality of life standard that we undoubtedly need to address," Duncan said at a news conference.

"However, it is details within the reports that reflect specific incidents that can only be characterized as unhygienic, unsafe and unacceptable that leaves me feeling disappointed and dissatisfied."

Duncan said the problems are not systemic but are widespread enough to cause significant concern.

Many of the comments from across the province are about staff being "stretched to capacity."

One health region said residents feel staff are very busy and the residents are hesitant to ask for anything unless absolutely necessary. The same region said staff feel bad when they can't provide timely care.

In most facilities, patients also said they want more recreational activities, accessible outdoor areas and better exercise. At one Saskatoon facility, the review found that residents are only getting occupational therapy or physiotherapy once a month.

Duncan sent the CEOs to visit long-term care homes after concerns were raised in the spring that residents were at risk because of understaffing.

In April, Regina resident Carrie Klassen went to the legislature to warn that the level of care at the seniors home where her mother is living was dangerously inadequate. Klassen said there have been cases of residents falling or being left on toilets for hours. She said there was one week when her mom never got a bath because the care aide was by herself in the evening.

"I had hoped that these were isolated cases," Duncan said Tuesday.

"However, given the gravity of the issues, I felt it was important to have a better understanding of the true nature of the situation."

The health minister says the province is setting up a $10-million fund to deal with urgent problems. Solutions include more baths, improved responsiveness to call bells and more equipment such as lifts to help move people around.

There will also be $4.5 million for a pilot project in Saskatoon and Prince Albert that focuses on helping seniors get support to stay in their own homes longer, instead of going into care.

Duncan says all long-term care facilities will set up resident and family councils and CEOs will make annual visits.

"While there is great care going in Saskatchewan in long-term care, we still have residents who are in our care who are not receiving the level of care that you or I would expect for our own families," he said.

The Opposition says the government's one-time fund doesn't address the biggest problem — chronically low staffing levels.

NDP Leader Cam Broten says there should be minimum staffing ratios for different levels of care and the ministry should set basic requirements for such things as the number of baths seniors in care must be offered.

"Building a new wheelchair ramp or fixing up a bathroom are good things," said Broten.

"But nothing presented by the government today assures Saskatchewan families that a staff person will be there for their grandmas when they need help to the bathroom, getting out of bed or when their call buttons ring unanswered."