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‘Fox guarding henhouse’; Retirement homes blasted on oversight

Posted: January 25, 2021

(January 24, 2021)

By: Sue-Ann Levy, Ottawa Sun

Pnina Ptasznik was horrified last April when she got on a Zoom call to find her 88-yearold mom staring into space with only “no, no, no” coming out of her mouth.

Toronto’s L’Chaim Retirement Home was in a COVID-19 outbreak at the time, but Freda Rosenblatt repeatedly tested negative.

But she did have a fever – a symptom of what the home’s doctor diagnosed as a UTI infection on April 14.

She was put on antibiotics but didn’t get better.

“She couldn’t answer me,” Ptasznik said recently, recalling that frightening Zoom call. “It was completely abnormal.”

A hospital report on April 24 said she was suffering from acute kidney failure and dehydration.

Rosenblatt, who suffered from dementia and was a child of the Holocaust, remained in hospital for four weeks. She died June 6.

Linda Grossman’s husband died on June 12 at 86 – exactly three days after she pulled him out of L’Chaim.

She said he tested positive for COVID-19 – one of 17 residents who did – but recovered. Near the end, he was no longer eating or drinking.

Another five residents died from COVID-19.

Grossman said that to her knowledge he was isolated in his room for more than three weeks.

She wanted him to spend his final days surrounded by love and family.

“We felt he was a person parked in a chair with minimal attention waiting to die,” she said of the former dentist, who also suffered from dementia.

The cost to house Rosenblatt at this home was $6,400 a month, plus $250 for toiletries. The Grossman family was paying $7,247 per month.

Both ladies complained to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority – criticized in an 84-page December auditor general’s report over concerns about resident care and staffing levels, little oversight by the provincial ministry in charge of the RHRA and a bias toward operators.

Although they feel the RHRA inspector was conscientious – making a finding of neglect in December – they say they were never informed if there were consequences for L’Chaim’s owner.

“That is not for public knowledge,” Grossman said.

The final inspection report is as vague, if not more so, than those issued by the Long-Term Care Ministry. As is the case with LTC homes, the RHRA has closed the case file, seemingly acting on blind faith that the operator has taken “corrective action.”

Speaking on behalf of owner Judy Cohen, lawyer Rob Karrass said that while the pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, they have “worked tirelessly with the residents and their families” to ensure a healthy, safe and positive environment.

He said the December RHRA report has “nothing to do with a death at L’Chaim,” there was no “inaction or pattern of inaction” that jeopardized the resident’s health, and he that her condition was stabilized in hospital where she contracted COVID-19 and died three months later Rosenblatt’s family said emphatically she never had COVID-19, and they have the medical records to prove it.

But these issues are not limited to L’Chaim.

According to the Ontario Health Coalition, some 171 retirement homes of 700 in Ontario are in outbreak.

Yet there has been little focus on these facilities.

Two women with parents at Revera-owned Forest Hill Place in Toronto, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, said they had to deal with a COVID outbreak that lasted from Nov. 4 to Jan. 16.

Five residents succumbed to the deadly virus.

One source said security guards were brought in instead of more PSWs to residents stayed in their room during the lockdown.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the OHC, said the RHRA provides “even less oversight” than that conducted over LTC homes.

Fundamentally, she said, they’re “self-regulating” in an industry dominated by large chains.

She said one big concern is retirement homes are being “misused” as another tier of LTC with patients being transferred there from hospitals to await an LTC bed.

“It’s like having the fox guarding the henhouse,” she said. “We have very serious concerns about oversight.”

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