TORONTO — There have been at least 29 homicides in long-term care homes in Ontario in the past six years, a health-care advocacy group said Monday.
The Ontario Health Coalition released a report on the homes, and the homicide numbers come from the coroner’s office, which doesn’t assign blame in a finding of homicide, but defines it as one person causing the death of another.
Natalie Mehra, the coalition’s executive director, said a resident with dementia may be aggressive toward another resident, resulting in their death, and though there isn’t any criminal intent, it’s a tragedy for all involved.
“The level of homicide in Ontario’s long-term care facilities is higher than virtually anywhere else in our society,” she said.
The actual total of long-term care homicides is higher than the 29 found in the coroner’s data, Mehra said, because they don’t include the victims of nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, who confessed to murdering eight patients in Woodstock and London, some of whom were killed in the report’s time span.
When considering those statistics in the context of Ontario having about 80,000 people living in long-term care homes, that’s a homicide rate four times the city of Toronto, Mehra said.
“When we dug a little more deeply we looked at other types of violence in long-term care, we found that the violence rates all around, not just homicides, were escalating, and that homicides are the extreme end of a continuum of violence that is escalating in the homes,” she said.
The coroner’s office does not indicate where the homicides occurred.
The coalition held news conferences Monday in several cities — including Chatham and Sarnia — to talk about local gaps and issues in the long-term care system. A news conference will be held Tuesday in London.
Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition, said although there haven’t been any reports of homicides at long-term care homes in Chatham-Kent orSarnia, “I don’t think the public knows how routine it is.”
Some nursing home residents are being sexually and emotionally abused by other residents, she said. Personal support workers (PSW) and other staff are also being targeted.
The abuse includes “name calling, racial epithets, just nasty comments or sexualized comments made to mostly women, who are mostly PSWs,” Roebuck said.
Staff in the homes are also experiencing violence, Mehra said, pointing to government figures showing that lost time due to injury in long-term care is nearly double that of the health sector in general.
Nicole Grainger, president of Unifor Local 127 in Chatham-Kent that represents personal support workers at area long-term care homes, said the pressure of the job is driving people away.
“We’re losing some very good, longtime staff.”
Grainger said she’s heard of PSWs leaving to go work at fast food restaurants, for less pay, because they can no longer do the job.
Health Minister Christine Elliott did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Postmedia received a response from the ministry.
“The health and safety of all Ontarians is a top priority for our government. Ontarians in long-term care homes deserve to live in a safe and secure environment,” Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for Elliott, said in an e-mail.
The coalition is calling on the government to institute a minimum standard of care, guaranteeing at least four hours of hands-on nursing and personal support for each resident. The coalition calculates, using government data, that current levels of staffing are at 2.7 hours per resident per day.
It’s also calling for increased use of behavioural supports teams, which help long-term care homes manage individuals with aggressive behaviour caused by dementia or other conditions. Half of Ontario’s long-term care homes don’t have in-house behavioural supports resources, the coalition said.
Though not mandated by the province, many long-term care homes – including all 10in Sarnia-Lambton – are already staffed with so-called Behavioral Support Ontario teams.
The coalition said part of what has led to the current situation is Ontario cutting chronic care and psychogeriatric care beds in hospitals and offloading the patients to long-term care homes.
“Ontario’s long-term care homes have not been resourced to increase care levels commensurate with the offloading of significantly more complex patients,” the report said. “Our research shows that long-term care beds are funded at approximately one-third the rate of chronic/complex care hospital beds.”
Candace Chartier, chief executive of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, said a minimum standard of care is a “cookie cutter” approach that may not make sense.
“Not every resident in the province needs the same level of care,” she said. “We are optimistic with this new government, they are putting more beds in the system.”