LEVY: Retirement homes cost residents a lot of money but have little oversight

LEVY: Retirement homes cost residents a lot of money but have little oversight

(January 24, 2021)

By: Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun

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

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

However, 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.”

When she continued to decline, the family insisted she be sent by ambulance to hospital.

An April 24 report from North York General Hospital 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. At that point palliative, she was transferred to Baycrest because it was the only place that would allow family to visit.

She died June 6.

Linda Grossman’s husband, “Mickey,” died on June 12 at 86 — exactly three days after she pulled him out of L’Chaim.

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

Another five residents died from COVID.

Grossman said 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 once well-respected 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 (RRHA) — criticized in an 84-page December 2020 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 towards 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 any consequences for L’Chaim’s owner.

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

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 while the COVID-19 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 claimed her condition was stabilized in hospital where she contracted COVID and passed away three months later.

Rosenblatt ‘s family responded emphatically she never had COVID, nothing resolved and they have the medical records to prove it.

Karrass also claims the RHRA is a “biased process” — that they never took into consideration his 15-page response.

He said the two people who spoke to the Toronto Sun are unhappy because their family members passed away tragically but there are “28 other families that love L’Chaim.”

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, 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 ensure residents stayed in their room during the lockdown.

Forest Hill Place charges between $5,000 and $8,000 per month for an apartment.

Marie Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Revera, said the company has always retained security personnel from top companies to “assist with the monitoring of (wandering) residents” given the “shortage” of PSWs and health care aides

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

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

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

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

Established 10 years ago, the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA) describes itself as an independent, non-profit regulator charged by the provincial government to protect and ensure the safety and well-being of up to 80,000 residents of 770 Ontario retirement homes under the Retirement Homes Act.

It falls under the umbrella of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and its 84-year-old minister Raymond Cho.

In a December 2020 report, Ontario’s Auditor General concluded the RHRA “does not yet have fully effective systems and procedures in place … to protect the security and safety of (retirement home) residents.”

The key findings include:

– Hospital patients placed into retirement homes to await an LTC bed not subject to RHRA oversight

– Concerns about resident care and staffing levels

– Public doesn’t know about the RHRA and that they can direct complaints there

– RHRA more concerned that enforcement actions may place “financial pressure” on struggling homes

– Ministry in charge not able to properly assess whether the RHRA has effectively met its mandate

In an emailed response, the RRHA said it has developed a five-point plan to address the AG’s recommendations, which include strengthening the complaints process and enhancing public communication of retirement home compliance history.

Eric Pereira, press secretary to Cho, said the ministry has begun a regular review of the Act and the AG’s findings will help.

“We are determined to strengthen care and safety protections for the residents,” he said.

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