The issue of violence in nursing homes has largely been focused on the residents themselves, but London personal injury lawyer Maia Bent says there needs to be attention paid to the homes and the people who work there.
“What doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention is the violence or neglect by the people working in these nursing homes,” says Bent, a partner with Lerners LLP where she practises personal injury law. “In some of these facilities the standard of care is not very good.”
Bent has two cases involving elderly people who died in nursing homes after their dietary restrictions were ignored.
The daughter in one case has launched a $6-million lawsuit against the Windsor home where her father died following his second day there.
She is also lobbying to encourage the use of colour-coded wrist bands which are in use in the United States. A simple glance at the band will alert workers of any health or dietary restrictions, much like the process used in hospitals. The victim in the Windsor case was known to be at high risk of choking and was not to be served solids. A large label on his file that was transferred with him to the home warned staff of the risk.
“It turns out that these cases are not so rare. They’re not being reported by the Ministry of Health in a way to alert the public,” says Bent.
The man’s death was reported as a communication error when in fact he died as a result of choking, says Bent, noting during autopsy food was discovered in his lungs. She adds he was on a dietary restriction to consume only pureed meals.
Ontario’s health ministry, she adds, has an obligation to make sure these homes are complying with the rules and regulations. Bent maintains not enough is being done to enforce those rules and she says the penalties are not sufficient enough to lead to substantive changes.
In the situation involving the death of the Windsor man, the home was ordered to improve its communication procedures. It was ordered to ensure that instructions for residents be communicated to all departments to ensure they are implemented accurately. It was also instructed to implement a correction plan to alert food service workers of residents’ dietary needs, according to the Windsor Star report.
“I believe because they’re elderly and they’re often sick, or they have dementia, when they die it isn’t given the attention as if a young person had choked to death,” says Bent. “You need to keep the residents safe from the staff.”
In both cases, Bent alleges the home initially attributed the deaths to heart attacks and denied the cause was actually choking.
Bent has other cases where staff failed to follow care instructions, resulting in injuries and deaths.
“Often, changes in the system do not occur until these organizations are faced with lawsuits,” she says.
“The common theme here is there’s neglect in the care system. These elderly people in those homes are so vulnerable, they need advocacy.”