Meltdown at St. Joseph’s

While CUPE is focused on budget problems, we're left asking who will be accountable

St. Joseph's at Fleming (photo: Pat Trudeau)
St. Joseph's at Fleming (photo: Pat Trudeau)

The axe has fallen and June 13th is officially the line drawn in the sand for the Board of Directors at St. Joseph’s at Fleming.

Following Pamela VanMeer’s report on CHEX Newswatch of abuse at the facility, there’s been a public outcry for corrective action on the parties involved.

And, most importantly, reform of policy to avoid these incidents from happening in the future.

Those expectations are not unreasonable, particularly if you saw the video as I did the day it aired.

As someone whose father-in-law was cared for in a facility like St. Joseph’s for the last three years, the video hit home and filled me with a range of emotions, the most prominent of which were heartbreak and anger. Shortly after the video surfaced, the staff depicted in the video were relieved of their duties.

When the video was released, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — the union that represents front-line workers — sent out a media release in which they voiced their concern over the allegations. Unfortunately, their concern was overshadowed by an opportunistic reference to underfunding and low staffing levels as part of the blame for such incidents. Candace Rennick, Ontario Secretary-Treasurer for CUPE, is quoted as saying, “Imagine how much better care would be, and how much safer residents and staff would be, if staffing levels were higher and homes had enough funding so two staff work together during shifts.”

My rebuttal to Candace Rennick is this: imagine how much better care would be, and how much safer residents would be, if the staff weren’t abusing them in a place that should be safe.

Two major points I have to make here. First, I get that the system is underfunded. My family has experienced that first-hand as we’ve had to provide the absolute basics of living for my father-in-law while he was under the care of a local facility. Second, I’ve seen the staff members doing the work of three people in a profession that is often thankless and always highly demanding.

I’ve also personally witnessed staff who obviously fell into this profession because they thought it was a good idea when spinning the career wheel after enrolling in college. Some of these people just don’t care about the patients in their care and couldn’t care less about the concerns of their family members.

Candace, your union is filled with men and women who bust their ass day in and day out because of their passion to help others. It’s filled with men and women who care for our loved ones at a level that matches our own. It also has some people who, in my opinion, not only deserve to lose their jobs but should also face criminal charges. The problem with your insensitive political positioning statement is that you’re trying to justify their actions on budgetary issues. You completely diminish the merit of those union members who manage to get through their shifts every day without shoving a towel of feces into a patient’s face or feeling up a co-worker behind a patient’s back.

Yesterday, members of the Board of Directors for St. Joseph’s at Fleming were informed that they are to tender their resignation by June 13 or they’ll be fired and replaced. This is no doubt a step to help public opinion of the facility but, after I thought about it more, this move goes much deeper than that.

Moving forward, St. Joseph’s will need strong leadership and policy reform. It will need accountability from top to bottom, and the existing board was simply not accountable. They did a poor job of responding to the allegations, and certainly — based off of the blatant violations captured on video — didn’t create a culture of accountability.

This point was further reinforced by Don McDermott, President of the Catholic Health Corporation of Ontario (CHCO), the “corporate sponsor” of St. Joseph’s at Fleming that requested the board step down. Mr. McDermott noted the ongoing issues at the facility and the recent news as reasons enough to replace the board. He claims that CHCO has been working with the board for over a year to address their lack of knowledge about the quality of care at the facility.

Yesterday, Kevin Dunn, chairman of the St. Joseph’s board, told The Peterborough Examiner that the board is declining to honour the request to resign because “We just don’t feel like it’s the correct road to go down.”

However this boardroom standoff ends, it’s secondary to the fact that reform indeed needs to happen at St. Joseph’s — and likely at other facilities like it. It’s only my opinion, but I feel like Pamela VanMeer’s report simply scratches the surface of a much bigger issue.

The truth of the matter is that horrible people got caught doing horrible things. That’s all.

Candace, you could have come out and simply said that this was an isolated incident that would be investigated and the people involved would face whatever punishment was appropriate for their behavior. Instead, you used the physical abuse of a woman suffering from a disease that I’ve watched ravage my father-in-law for years as a talking point for your union’s “cause”. For that I say not only should the board resign, you should be drafting your own resignation letter.