The Ontario-based corporate owners of a Chilliwack seniors home are in damage control and are in town investigating after an exposé uncovered a 94-year-old blind woman was left in a bed-bug infested room for days on end.
Rita Bedford was the focus of a CBC Go Public story from Nov. 3 that stemmed from distraught employees of The Cascades filming the bed bugs on the elderly woman’s mattress.
The bed bug incident dates back to December 2018, but the story spurred other employees, residents and relatives of residents to express concern about care at the home, and the company’s response.
Representatives for Sienna Living came to The Cascades on Nov. 5 to hold a meeting with residents and family members.
Esther Esau’s mother lives at The Cascades and she addressed the company owners with strong words about the billion-dollar company that runs dozens of senior living homes across Canada.
Given that many of the residents suffer from serious health conditions, and many have dementia, Esau expressed concern that complaints about care at the home had to be leaked to the media by anonymous employees.
“The employees that work here are the eyes and ears and voices for the vulnerable tenants who may be blind, deaf or have dementia and so it is of most importance that employees have the right and freedom to make it their duty to report any complaint and not have the threat of losing their jobs if they do so,” Esau said at the meeting.
In response to questions about changes, Sienna Living director of communications Natalie Gokchenian issued a statement to The Progress.
“In response to the CBC Go Public piece, I can confirm that representatives from our team were at The Cascades [Nov. 5] to commence an investigation into the allegations that were new to us regarding transparency, accountability and openness within the team,” Gokchenian said via email. “We are deeply disturbed by these allegations and wanted to immediately investigate to ensure our core values were being reflected in our day-to-day operations.”
A resident of The Cascades who spoke to The Progress, but did not want his name used, said he sometimes eats with the 94-year-old Bedford and has to help her because they are currently using plastic cutlery and paper plates.
Esau, too, pointed to the dining situation because of an apparent sewage pipe leak that has affected all dining at the facility for weeks.
“The plastic cutlery and paper plates are being used temporarily because the kitchen is being repaired,” Gokchenian explained. “During this temporary interruption in the meal service, plastic and paper cutlery is being used for sanitary purposes and we anticipate full service to resume sometime late next week.”
Esau said after she spoke at the meeting, she was told by Lisa Kelly, the regional vice-president for long-term care for Sienna Living, that she would be in town for a couple of days to give employees a chance to come forward with information about operations at the facility.
”Hopefully Sienna will be able to resolve this issue and prevent any more neglect and abuse,” Esau wrote in an email.
Asked about inspections at the facility, a spokesperson for Fraser Health explained that assisted living sites are not licensed by Fraser Health but are done so through the Ministry of Health via the assisted living registry. The Ministry is responsible for inspection.
Fraser Health funds The Cascades for healthcare services only, and bed bugs are not a health issue.
“While a considerable nuisance, bed bugs are not considered a health concern and there’s no evidence they spread disease to people,” according to senior public affairs consultant Tasleem Juma. “However, there is the possibility of secondary infection if bites are scratched.
“We investigate all healthcare-related complaints and if they are substantiated, we work closely with the site to resolve the concern and ensure they are in compliance with the requirements of the contract we have with them.”
Sienna Living said the company continues to work with Fraser Health and the Ministry of Health to ensure safety and quality standards are met.
“The Cascades Lodge and Manor is well respected in the Chilliwack community and I am delighted to share that The Cascades has an Exemplary rating by Accreditation Canada and quality indicators are consistent with the provincial average in B.C.,” Gokchenian said. “Our recent resident satisfaction survey had a 97 per cent response rate from residents at The Cascades who rated the care at the residence higher than in past years with an increase in resident satisfaction.”