By John Miner, The London Free Press
Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek is calling for a hard look at Ontario’s long term care home inspection system after reports showed abuse at a London facility stretched over a year.
The Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care was inspected by the Health Ministry in 2014 after a nurse, Susan Muzylowsky, was suspended for misconduct involving the verbal, physical and sexual abuse of patients.
The home, run by St. Joseph’s Health Care, was cleared by the Health Ministry of violations, but it didn’t end there.
The College of Nurses of Ontario conducted its own investigation over two years and earlier this year disciplined Muzylowsky, who admitted to professional misconduct and abuse against 19 residents.
The ministry ordered a re-inspection of Mount Hope and on Wednesday released reports that detailed repeated abuse of patients by the nurse, ranging from withholding prescribed medication to demeaning patients and touching them in a sexual manner without consent.
Mount Hope was found by the ministry to have failed to protect its residents from sexual abuse, failed to protect residents from neglect, and failed to ensure staff were aware of their mandatory responsibility to report misconduct to the home’s leadership and the ministry.
Yurek said it’s clear there’s a problem when an initial inspection didn’t find any problems, but a re-inspection detailed numerous violations of regulations.
“The government needs to take a better look at their inspection policy,” he said Thursday.
The reports released Wednesday indicated that front-line care workers had repeatedly reported the physical and sexual abuse to the nurses in charge during their shift, but the home’s administration or the ministry wasn’t alerted.
One care worker said she was afraid nothing would be done if she went to senior management and that she would still have to report to the nurse involved in the abuse, a report said.
The situation continued for about 12 months until some staff went directly to Mount Hope management with evidence and Muzylowsky was immediately suspended and later fired.
The Health Ministry should consider measures that would protect long term care workers so they feel comfortable reporting possible abuse to inspectors, Yurek said.
“I’m hopeful going forward that there is proper procedures and policies in place so this sort of situation doesn’t occur again,” he said. “I feel terrible for the residents and their families for what they had to undergo.”
On Thursday, the Health Ministry said in an emailed statement that it continues to closely monitor the situation at Mount Hope and is conducting a resident quality inspection. The ministry also is following up on previously issued orders.
“Further actions and/or sanctions will be identified if continued serious non-compliance presents. Resident risk and operational risk continue to be the primary drivers in inspection decisions,” the ministry statement said.
Jane Meadus of the Toronto-based Advocacy Centre for the Elderly agreed the inspection system needs an overhaul.
One of the problems with the current system is that it employs inspectors, often former nurses, who report just what they see, not investigators who can find out what is actually happening, she said.
“I do think we need a more investigative process,” Meadus said, possibly hiring former police officers to look into serious allegations of abuse.
In looking at the Mount Hope reports, she said it was clear the home failed to meet its legal obligations to report misconduct to the ministry.
Those who see abuse in a home, including visitors, are legally obligated to report it to the ministry. Most people might not be aware of that requirement, but staff at a long term care home certainly should, Meadus said.
Given the length of time over which the abuse took place, Meadus said the Health Ministry should consider going beyond issuing a corrective order and fine the home.
“At some point you really have to think when are we going to see some fines in a case like this that was so egregious.”
Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, president of St. Joseph’s, said the corporation has worked with staff to make sure they understand they’re obligated to report inappropriate behaviour.
She also apologized for the verbal and physical abuse Mount Hope residents suffered in 2014.
A report on Ontario’s inspection system by the Auditor General last year found the ministry was slow in responding to complaints, putting residents at risk.
In one case cited by the auditor, the ministry received a complaint of physical abuse of a resident at a home in May 2014, but didn’t carry out an inspection until February 2015. The ministry’s explanation was that the inspection was delayed because of lack of resources.
On Thursday the ministry said it evaluates risk and conducts an immediate inspection if information is received that there is serious harm or risk of serious harm to a resident.
“The ministry takes the issue of resident abuse, neglect or improper care very seriously,” the statement said.