A criminal investigation has been launched into allegations of abuse at a St. James personal care home — accusations that stayed hidden for four months until a whistleblower notified the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

A criminal investigation has been launched into allegations of abuse at a St. James personal care home — accusations that stayed hidden for four months until a whistleblower notified the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

At least 15 residents at Extendicare’s Oakview Place at 2395 Ness Ave. may have been victimized, and two health-care aides are on paid leave while the investigation continues.

No details were released about what kind of mistreatment the residents might have suffered, or what the abuse allegations entail. The two aides are believed to be responsible for the abuse.

The daughter of a resident, who spoke to the Free Press Tuesday afternoon outside the home, said her mother was one of the abuse victims.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, was visiting her 91-year-old mother Tuesday when news broke about the alleged abuse.

The daughter said her mom, who has been in the home for three years, told her and her brother this winter that people at the home were hurting her. They saw bruises on their mother but didn’t initially believe her because she has dementia.

"We didn’t think it was possible. We believe her now," said the woman, who noted her mother’s behaviour has changed.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>
<p>Allegations of abuse against two health-care aides are said to affect as many as 15 residents at Extendicare’s Oakview Place personal care home.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Allegations of abuse against two health-care aides are said to affect as many as 15 residents at Extendicare’s Oakview Place personal care home.

"She doesn’t want to bathe now and if people touch her or get too close now, she screams. It makes sense now."

She is furious her mother could be hurt in a home meant to protect her, she said.

"My brother and I put her in this home because we thought she would be safe and cared for. This is heartbreaking," she said.

The administrator of the home has stepped down, and a new regional director for Extendicare in Manitoba has been hired.

Sandra Goers, the newly appointed regional director and director of operational quality for Western Canada, said during a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon that Extendicare has known about the allegations since February but a "breakdowns in process" meant the WRHA, the police and the provincial office for protection of persons in care weren’t notified, in contravention of Extendicare’s responsibilities.

Only one resident’s family was initially notified, but now all 15 affected families have been contacted, Goers said.

Goers took over the regional director position on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon, she issued a public apology, thanked the whistleblowing staff member and described the allegations as "devastating."

"It is completely unacceptable that this did not take place, and for that, we unreservedly apologize to residents, their families, and to the WRHA. I’m so very sorry for the hurt that this has caused you, and to our community at Oakview Place."

"You deserved better from us, and we will do better."

The son of another resident, who didn’t want to be identified, came to check on his mother Tuesday afternoon after learning of the alleged abuse.

He said he’s confident his mother, who has been at the home for more than six years, wasn’t a victim because she is aware of her surroundings and would have told him.

However, he called the situation disgusting and plans to speak to the home.

Residents and their families are rightfully upset and concerned, said Gina Trinidad, the WRHA’s chief operating officer of community health services and long-term care, who also apologized.

"We are deeply disturbed and disappointed by these serious allegations and the process the facility initially took to investigate the concerns," Trinidad said.

WRHA conducted unannounced visits to the home after the staff member reported the allegations to them on June 10. The aides were placed on leave after the WRHA found out earlier this month. The home’s licence is not under review at this time.

Staff will be re-trained on abuse and neglect policies and the whistleblower program, said Goers, who was asked why the company didn’t notify WRHA or police if Extendicare knew about the allegations in February.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>
<p>The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is disturbed by the allegations, says Gina Trinidad, the WRHA’s chief operating officer of community health services and long-term care.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is disturbed by the allegations, says Gina Trinidad, the WRHA’s chief operating officer of community health services and long-term care.

"I’m not going to sit here in front of you and make any excuses whatsoever. We are wholeheartedly apologizing for what has happened. It is very clear that there was a breakdown in processes, and we have apologized and we will apologize again. We will do whatever we can to help rebuild trust with both the residents, their families, and additionally the WRHA," Goers responded.

The Winnipeg Police Service confirmed it is investigating, but wouldn’t confirm when they were informed about the allegations or the nature of the alleged abuse.

Police have instructed the WRHA not to release many details about the matter so as not to compromise the criminal investigation, a WRHA spokesman said.

The provincial government declined to comment.

"The province will co-operate fully with the authorities, but there is an ongoing police investigation, so it would not be appropriate to comment at this time," a provincial spokesperson stated.

The allegations underscore the need for a seniors advocate in Manitoba and bolstered staffing levels in personal care homes, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont stated.

"It is inexcusable that allegations of abuse came forward in February and action was not taken until June. The fact that processes and policies were not followed in allegations of abuse and neglect means that Extendicare’s licence should be immediately reviewed by the province," Lamont stated.

— with files from Dean Pritchard

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.