The Canadian Press
Posted: Nov 15, 2012 6:21 PM ET
Last Updated: Nov 15, 2012 8:07 PM ET
The federal government has ordered a thorough audit of the country's largest veterans' facility following complaints from family members about substandard care, The Canadian Press has learned.
A senior official, who requested anonymity, said Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney gave the order on Thursday after hearing the "disturbing" allegations of neglect of frail vets at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre.
The audit would focus both on how taxpayers' money is being spent and on the quality of the care provided, the official said.
"We're just trying to make sure that what veterans are getting there is of top-notch quality," he said from Ottawa.
"We want to make sure we're basing our action on credible evidence; the audit is the only tool to allow us to really determine what's going on the ground there."
The official said the aim is to have the audit completed by early next year. It will be as thorough and as detailed as possible, include conversations with relatives of patients, and the results would be made public, he said.
In articles last week, The Canadian Press outlined several concerns raised by relatives, who said they had been stonewalled by Sunnybrook in trying to have them addressed.
Among the issues were claims of vets forced to endure unsanitary conditions, delays in bathing and feeding, soiled sheets, dead mice in rooms, and constant room and caregiver changes.
Relatives also decried what they called a lack of accountability.
For its part, Sunnybrook says its care meets or exceeds standards, patient and family surveys show exceptional levels of satisfaction, and it is always willing to address any concerns.
2 officials sent to Sunnybrook
Still, Blaney sent two senior officials last Friday to look into the complaints. They met briefly with Sunnybrook managers, who assured them the concerns were being addressed, although the families were skeptical.
The senior official said Thursday the visit was simply to get an initial sense of the situation and to send a signal Ottawa was watching.
Blaney's spokesman later confirmed the audit directive and said the minister was keeping a close eye on the situation.
"Minister Blaney takes the concerns of veterans and their families very seriously and that's why he is taking clear action to investigate and address these concerns," Niklaus Schwenker said in an email.
The 500-bed Sunnybrook Veterans Centre — something of a regulatory orphan — reports exclusively to the federal government even though it takes in tens of millions of dollars from both the province and Ottawa.
In an interview two weeks ago, Sunnybrook management said the facility acts as if it were under Ontario law, and cited provincial Ministry of Health audits in support of its contention the care allegations were coming from a handful of malcontents.
"The Ministry of Health had to agree to do it," said Dr. Jocelyn Charles, medical director.
"We've volunteered, and we've been audited twice."
Asked when the most recent audit was carried out, Charles said: "The last one was two — was it one or two years ago?"
"Yes, maybe even a little bit more than that," Dorothy Ferguson, Sunnybrook's operations director, interjected.
Last Health Ministry audit was in 2005
In a subsequent email this week, Ferguson said Health Ministry officials in fact last audited the facility's 190 long-term-care beds in spring 2004, and again in November of 2005.
On Thursday, Charles said the audit that occurred one or two years ago was in fact a review done by a national independent non-profit organization, Accreditation Canada, which took place in 2010.
"I'm sorry I didn't make that clear," Charles said.
The veterans centre also relies on the non-profit to review its 310 complex continuing-care beds — which fall under provincial legislation, are paid for by Ontario, but are accountable only to Ottawa.
An Accreditation Canada spokeswoman explained the organization creates and markets health-care standards, and takes a "mentor-like" approach in advising facilities how to improve any weak spots and celebrate their strengths.
Normally, under Ontario's increasingly stricter rules, the province's 630 long-term-care homes are inspected at least once a year to ensure they meet government standards. Inspections include interviews with residents and family members. Results are public.
Not so for Sunnybrook.
"The ministry has no involvement in any oversight," said David Jensen, a spokesman for the Ontario Health Ministry.
"This (auditing) wasn't a part of any long-term-care-home type of inspection."
He also said he could find no record of the audit.
Either way, Sunnybrook insists it meets or exceeds Ontario's quality standards — even though an audit in 2005 would have been two years before the province legislated those standards.
Sunnybrook also points to patient and family satisfaction surveys as evidence its care is exemplary.
Since the story was published, however, several other people have come forward to raise concerns — some on condition the identities of their loved ones not be disclosed to Sunnybrook.
One family reported their loved one died after a fall. Another said they discovered their elderly relative with a tooth knocked out, apparently after the essentially immobile patient had wriggled out of his bed.
Thanks for your respoinse, I will be avail;able in the am at 905 357 3306, my hpome nbumber, until 1300
On Thu, Nov 15, 2012 at 5:03 PM, Keith Hillier <Keith.Hillier@vac-acc.gc.ca> wrote:
Good afternoon Mr. Blais,
As you know, Keith is travelling. In his absence, I'd like to follow-up with you in order to action your e-mail; however I have tried both numbers and neither appear to be working. Do you have another contact number? Is there a best time to contact you?
Thanks, Kim Peters (for Keith Hillier)
Quality Issues & Control Manager
Service Delivery Branch
Veterans Affairs Canada
>>> Mike Blais <firstname.lastname@example.org> 11/15/2012 9:09 am >>>
Hope all is well.
I hear that you have been in Australia, hope you enjoyed the trip and did not get to roasted on the beach sucking back some frosty Fosters.
Brevity aside, I have been contacted by some families of veterans who are at Sunnybrook and serious concerns have been raised. I was informed this morning that more will be forthcoming. As you know, Keith, I have taken a proactive stance on the care of veterans residing at St Anne's and Parkwood in the past and am determined to ensure Quality of Care standards for this generation of vets are maintained regardless of whose jurisdiction the hospital falls under. The issues that have been brought forth are directly related to quality of care, as such, I feel obligated to respond affirmatively to the request for assistance.
That being said, I would prefer to approach this issue in a dignified
manner bereft of public demonstration as we felt was necessary to attain safeguards at St Annes.
I have always been forthright and willing to work with the department, this is no exception. Hopefully, we can address these issues in a unified sense, Keith and I would propose a mechanism wherein we can resolve theses issues. I suggest that we present a common front based on compassion, host a gathering wherein the department can be apprised of the families concerns in a non threatening atmosphere followed by a transparent tour of the
facility and meetings with the directorship.
I think this is a common sense approach, Keith, that is required to
reassure the families and restore the level of trust they and there loved ones deserve.
This is a serious issue, Keith and during my consultations over the past
week plus, I have received a great deal of support for pro-active advocacy from veterans in the GTA and southern Ontario. I am also quite confident, as demonstrated already by the families press conference last week, they are willing to fight in a public forum.
I am hoping that we can avoid this negative aspect and working together, resolve this issue to everybody's satisfaction through dialog, sincerity and as always, with primary goal of improving the lives of of our veterans, in this case, those who are most vulnerable as they are suffering from dementia.
I would encourage you to make this a priority, Keith, as i understand it, there are other civilian, media and political aspects to the equation.
Mike 305 357 3306 /// 305 359 9247
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