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Health facility accused of rodent, bedbug infestation

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

A long-term healthcare facility in Lethbridge, Alberta is under investigation following allegations that mice bit a dementia patient on the face.

Friends of Medicare (FoM), a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness of healthcare concerns in Alberta, charged in a Sept. 9 press release that an employee of St. Therese Villa, a 200-bed designated assisted living facility run by Covenant Health, found the disabled, immobile resident with mice nibbling at her face on Sept. 1.

“It’s really disgusting,” said Sandra Azocar, FoM’s executive director. Of the alleged victim, she said, “She’s in her later stages of dementia, and she’s completely unable to move.”

According to Azocar, staff at St. Therese had already been reporting instances of mouse and bedbug infestation for at least a year. “This is not just in this facility,” she added. “We’ve had many e-mails from patients and staff in other facilities, saying it’s an ongoing issue in this province.”

The Alberta government is investigating the situation. Matthew Grant, press secretary for Alberta’s Minister of Health, said that the preliminary St. Therese investigation is complete and the final report would be delivered to the Minister’s office before the end of September. “We want to make sure that all standards are being followed in all healthcare facilities in the province,” Grant said.

A Sept. 11 press statement from Covenant Health claimed that there was no physical or medical evidence indicating that the resident had suffered from any wounds caused by animal bites. While the organization admitted that a mouse had been spotted in the room where the resident had been, it maintained that the resident’s symptoms were more consistent with those of a viral condition.

“We can understand how the public would be alarmed at a story like the one that was circulated,” Patrick Dumelie, Covenant Health’s president and CEO, was quoted as saying in the statement. “We are also concerned for the distress these allegations have caused our families and residents and our staff, who provide incredible care.”

Covenant Health also stated that St. Therese Villa was cooperating with investigators in every way, increasing its pest-control measures and cleaning the facility according to established standards. “It is very unfortunate when these kinds of allegations are circulated in the public without proper evidence or facts,” Dumelie argued.

But FoM wasn’t convinced, accusing Covenant Health of trying to “downplay the seriousness of this matter.”

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has already sent several formal complaints to Covenant Health regarding rodent and bedbug infestation before FoM’s recent charge.

But Glen Scott, AUPE’s vice president, cautioned that FoM had not offered any evidence or testimony backing up the alleged Sept. 1 incident. “I’m not saying it never happened,” Scott said, “but we haven’t had anybody come forward and say, ‘Yes, it did happen.’ And of course, those employers hide behind confidentiality.”

Scott added that Albertans are often reluctant to report problems with seniors’ care due to a shortage of long-term care space in Alberta. “People are scared to speak up when there are any issues in long-term care, because they’re worried that their mom and dad or whoever could get kicked out,” he argued. “Then they’ll have nowhere to put them and no one to take care of them.”

Azocar said that better regulations are needed to protect people in the province. “This is a huge… health and safety issue for both the staff and the patients,” she said.