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Seniors advocate calls for independent body to investigate complaints

Photo of Saint Vincent’s Nursing Home to go with future stories on senior care facilities. The group that represents non-profit nursing homes, which has grown to include some privately owned residences, hopes Stephen McNeil’s government will move quickly to hire more people and implement other recommendations in last week’s report from the expert panel on long-term care.
A Bedford woman recently lost a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act appeal to have the names of those involved in a dispute with St. Vincent's Nursing Home, where her parents were residents from 2013 to early 2016, unredacted from case documents related to her complaints about their care. - Eric Wynne
HALIFAX, N.S. —

Ellen Rudderham-Gaudet's parents are now beyond the need for her to battle for their safety but the Bedford woman is continuing to champion seniors' rights.

The academic researcher and member of Advocates for the Care of the Elderly is calling on the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness to create an independent body to investigate when people allege their loved ones are at risk in nursing homes.

Rudderham-Gaudet recently lost a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP) appeal to have the names of those involved in a dispute with St. Vincent's Nursing Home, where her parents were residents from 2013 to early 2016, unredacted from case documents related to her complaints about their care.

She had lodged five complaints, starting in August 2015, after she said she found her mother in a "zombie" state resulting from being prescribed a high dose of dilaudid. Rudderham-Gaudet alleged over-medication, isolation, failure to get her mother out of bed, rough language directed toward her parents and rough physical treatment.

None of the complaints advanced beyond the inquiry stage under the Protection of Persons in Care Act.

Judicial review could have been initiated

Rudderham-Gaudet said that from her own experiences and further work with ACE, that's what happens in the majority of cases.

"Through our efforts and research and the different media getting involved, we discovered only 20 per cent of complaints to Protection of Persons gets investigated," she said on Thursday from Florida, where she is vacationing.

"I learned from the opposing lawyer that I could have asked for a judicial review at the time that they decided not to investigate. The thing was, I never knew that they closed my file on inquiry. They never spoke back to me and told me anything.

"Not once did they do a wellness check. They could have come to St. Vincent's and seen for themselves bruising. ... They didn't validate any of the information they collected back to me."

Ruddernham-Gaudet did want to point out the help she received from some people throughout the ordeal before her parents moved to a new nursing home in 2016.

"Despite the unsettling experiences we had while our parents lived at St. Vincent`s Nursing Home and I volunteered (there), I will never forget and will be forever thankful to the many care givers that gave excellent care and attention to both parents, beyond the call of duty," Rudderham-Gaudet said.

"I am also very grateful to the continuing care co-ordinator who helped with expediting moving our parents out of St. Vincent`s into another nursing home where they lived their final days in better and safer circumstances."

Rudderham-Gaudet obtained the documents in her case but was disappointed to find they were redacted. Representing herself, she went through the province's FOIPOP process and succeeded in get some details unredacted but was unsuccessful in getting the names. She wanted to go to the Nova Scotia College of Nursing for further investigation but the regulatory body won't take that step without specific names, she said.

She was also disappointed to see that one of the defences put forward in her case was to question her mental health.

Mental health questions

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice M. Heather Robertson's decision on the appeal, released Wednesday, cited unreasonable invasion of privacy of those whose names were redacted as the reason it was denied.

Rudderham-Gaudet said she has great respect for the legislation and the "difficult balance between privacy and transparency."

However, she was disappointed that the decision didn't mention the public interest for the welfare and safety of the elderly in nursing homes.

"The imminent danger for nursing home residents today, it's been well spoken to in the media, but there needs to be more transparency, there needs to be more accountability," she said.

Rudderham-Gaudet said there's a conflict of interest for the government to be conducting inspections and investigations of complaints when they claim there's no crisis.

"I challenge the minister of health to review the personal case file of what's happened with me to see how poorly even the superficial inquiry was done and to see that it is critically needed that we have an independent body handling the investigations, taking the complaints and investigating."

Heather Fairbairn, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Wellness said in an email that the health and safety of residents and staff in long-term care homes is of paramount importance.

"Facilities have a duty to protect residents from abuse, and report allegations to the department," she wrote. "An inquiry is conducted into every complaint received under the Protection for Persons in Care Act (PPCA) and a determination is made as to whether the complaint falls within the scope of PPCA for further investigation, or if it should be forwarded to the licensing division, regulatory body or police. PPCA Investigations conducted by the department are comprehensive involving interviews and analyzing evidence such as documentation, policies, statements or videos and the results shared with the relevant parties. Directives may be issued to the facility that require follow-up by the department. Penalties may also be imposed to individuals and/or corporations under the PPCA. A summary of all PPCA investigations and data is published quarterly on our website.  We are satisfied with the capabilities of staff to effectively conduct complaint inquiries and investigations under the Act."

Representatives of St. Vincent's declined to comment.

RELATED: Court denies FOIPOP appeal for names in seniors home dispute

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