EDITOR’S NOTE: CollingwoodToday.ca has granted the use of a pseudonym in this story, and has deliberately left some of the details of employment vague to protect the identity of a Sunset Manor employee.
Heather Mason’s father has been dealing with a progressive dementia diagnosis for about seven years.
Her family urgently needs to get him into long-term care in Collingwood, and their first choice is Sunset Manor. The family has been on a wait list to get her father into the facility for the last two years.
Currently, 37 beds sit empty at the home.
Admissions at Sunset Manor have been halted since June 2021 as the County of Simcoe-run long-term care home works through orders from the Ministry of Long-Term Care. However, a Sunset Manor employee has broken her silence and agreed to talk with CollingwoodToday.ca to discuss issues within the home, which she alleges are due to a lack of accountability for management staff.
Amelia (not her real name) has worked at Sunset Manor for more than two decades.
She says she always took pride in her employment with the County of Simcoe, and only noticed a shift in quality of care at the home over the past two years.
“It used to be the No. 1 place to work. If you got a job at the county, at Sunset Manor, it was like getting a job at the Collingwood hospital. Part-timers got full benefits; you started into a pension,” she told CollingwoodToday.ca. “Now, you’re constantly fighting for everything.”
Based on the report, which was released in June 2021, the ministry made the order to halt admissions because of “significant areas of non-compliance,” relating to reports of abuse and neglect of residents; improper skin and wound care; discouraging staff from disclosing information to inspectors; delaying mandatory reporting to the provincial director; and lack of written records and plans for preventing altercations, administering nutrition and hydration programs, and specialized plans of care.
The county was ordered to hire a new manager for the home and had to have the new staff member approved by the ministry. No admissions are permitted until compliance with the ministry’s orders is achieved.
At the time the report was released, the county alleged a conflict of interest at the ministry because one of the inspectors, county officials said, is a former employee of the County of Simcoe.
Inspections were done at the home again in October 2021, December 2021 and March 2022, some based on complaints, and others based on critical incidents. Based on the March 2022 inspection reports, the home has had nine written notifications, 44 voluntary plans of correction and 31 compliance orders in the past 36 months.
When reached for comment this week, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Long-Term Care confirmed the hold on admissions and mandatory management order are still in place.
“The home continues to work to address and comply with outstanding compliance orders and stabilize leadership staffing,” noted the spokesperson. “Both orders will remain in place until the ministry is satisfied the home has met compliance and demonstrates the ability to continue to do so going forward.”
Amelia says she believes most of the issues at Sunset Manor are due to a management problem. She says in the past, managers would be on the floor monitoring situations, and there was a culture at the home of working together as a team whenever problems would arise.
“I feel not supported. They’re letting go good managers and are bringing in ones that aren’t so good,” said Amelia. “The support is missing.”
“They make it look nice on paper, but nothing is happening,” she added.
Amelia says she witnessed resident-on-resident abuse, and reported it to management, but nothing new was put in place and protocols weren’t changed to prevent it from happening again.
“There’s never accountability for (management), but there’s always accountability for us. I could go to them 100 times, but if they’re not going to put anything in place for the safety of the staff or residents, then nothing is going to change,” she lamented.
“Staff morale is horrible. It’s all negative.”
County of Simcoe responds
Across Ontario, Sunset Manor is the only long-term care home with a 'cease of admissions order' in force.
Jane Sinclair, the county’s general manager of health and emergency services, says the home is currently following the process set out in the ministry’s legislation and directives regarding the home.
“We continue to work very diligently and collaboratively to return the home to full compliance,” said Sinclair. “As we continue to work extremely hard with our partners, we hope that we can soon begin to accept residents into the home.”
When asked about staff turnover over the past year, Sinclair acknowledges a “significant effort” has been made to increase supports in the home.
“While recruitment and retention remain industry-wide issues, the county is pleased that we are able to secure and maintain staffing levels at Sunset Manor that are greater than industry standards,” she said. “We have a full and dedicated senior management team in place at the home.”
Sunset Manor is one of four long-term care homes operated by the County of Simcoe. The others include Trillium Manor in Orillia, Georgian Manor in Penetanguishene and Simcoe Manor in Beeton.
“All four of the county-run homes in our region have great reputations and we are so proud of our amazing staff for all they continue to do to provide excellent care to our residents in need,” said Sinclair.
Beds empty while families wait
Meanwhile, Mason sits on the outside, hoping the admissions halt will be lifted soon. She says her parents moved to Collingwood in 2011 to retire.
“We know from all of our research that it is the best facility for our dad,” Mason told CollingwoodToday.ca this week. “We are on lists for two other long-term care homes in Collingwood.”
Currently, Mason said her dad’s primary caregiver is her mother, as Mason lives in Norway. The family also pays for in-home care as a temporary solution while they wait to hear back from Sunset Manor.
“He needs round-the-clock care for everything, although he is not bed-bound,” said Mason.
Overall, Mason is concerned about the state of long-term care across Ontario.
“To patients waiting for those beds to reopen, every day counts,” she said. “A bed in a suitable home can make an enormous difference to the lives and well-being of the wives, husbands, children and grandchildren now dedicated to caring for a dementia patient in their own homes.”
“Upon reflection, I think we have been slightly naive in our confidence that the facilities would exist for our parents on the day when they needed them,” she added.
Amelia asked to use a different name to speak out as she’s worried about possible repercussions for speaking with media. She says she is one of many staff members who spoke to home inspectors over the past year and was questioned at work regarding her conversations with them.
“It worries me because (the county) is in a position of such power, and they’re looking out for themselves,” she said. “The thing is, I want change. I want to see change. I am 100 per cent a resident advocate. This is their life.”
“I want people to know that there are lots of wonderful people who work at Sunset Manor, and there’s lots of wonderful residents,” said Amelia. “If there was (management) accountability, these types of things wouldn’t be happening.”
Meanwhile, Mason sits by the phone waiting to hear when her father might be admitted, unswayed by swirling allegations.
“From what I understand, the faults that Sunset Manor was found to have in June last year have been or are in the process of being rectified,” said Mason. “We are confident the services and facilities will be up to the standards of long-term care homes in Ontario when the home reopens.”
“No, the investigation has not made us make any changes to Dad’s list of home priorities. Sunset Manor is still our No. 1 choice,” she said.
— With files from Erika Engel