The decision to move a loved one who can no longer live independently into a long term care facility is rarely made lightly. Family and friends want to believe that this change will provide the best quality of life possible for persons in need of assisted living.
The majority of this province's long-term care facilities and nursing homes provide an opportunity for Ontarians to live in clean, social environments where they can maintain as much independence as possible, while under the care of knowledgeable and trained specialists.
Recently, however, residents suffering tragedies and neglect have dominated media stories about Ontario nursing homes. It is all the more distressing when we remember that the victims of negligence or abuse in these facilities are some of the most vulnerable of our population, and may not have the capacity to deal with the issues themselves.
Residents deserve to live in environments where they are recognized as individuals, with their unique beliefs, choices and rights. Those who require assistance with even the most basic activities still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
A resident who is neglected or abused in a long-term care facility has remedies available to them. Sadly, however, there are many barriers to reporting these incidents. These can include an inability to communicate, fear of retaliation or a worsening of treatment if they speak up, embarrassment that they will not be believed, or there may be a basic lack of understanding of their legal and human rights.
It is important for residents and families to understand these rights and be aware of processes available to them to address concerns. The Ontario Long-Term Care Homes Act, which must be followed by any licensed long-term care facility in Ontario, states clearly that residents must be protected from abuse and neglect. There must be a written policy promoting zero tolerance of such acts.
Further, the Act specifically outlines a Bill of Rights that must be posted publicly on the premises. The Bill of Rights outlines 27 rights that residents must enjoy, from being treated with courtesy and respect, to privacy rights, to managing their own affairs to the greatest extent possible.
If the resident's rights have been violated, there are a number of options available to the victim or their loved ones. A complaint can be made to the long-term care facility directly and/or filed with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Ministry officials may opt to conduct an investigation.
In the event that abuse or neglect is suspected or confirmed, and where personal injury damages have resulted (physical or psychological) a civil lawsuit may be appropriate. Recently, a lawsuit has been filed against a nursing home chain in Ontario listing dozens of allegations against the chain, citing examples of horribly infected bed sores, filthy living conditions and neglect.
Perhaps because of the recent media publicity, more and more concerns about the care provided in long-term care facilities are being brought to light. Cases of unmonitored tensions between residents leading to violence and injury, over or under medicating residents leading to increased health problems, or failure to support residents in moving or toileting thereby worsening mobility and independence are regularly being addressed by lawyers.
Whether a person lives independently or in an assisted-living facility, everyone has the right to live in a safe and secure home. If that safety and security is breached, it's important to know there are ways to remedy the situation and to seek damages for the negligent or abusive actions of others.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.