Tom Brodbeck’s opinion essays (Winnipeg Free Press, July 28, 2023), rightly points out that in Winnipeg, at least, there has been “a breakdown of accountability measures to monitor the mistreatment” of residents of personal-care homes. Obviously, the physical and sexual abuse of care home residents needs to be corrected immediately and those who are guilty need to be punished.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that all care homes and all their employees are mistreating residents.
Two years ago, my wife, Elaine, had a stroke and since then she has been in three hospitals and two care homes. I visited her four or five times a week for about 1,500 hours over the two years, spending a great deal of time in communal areas where I have seen thousands of staff-resident interactions.
In all that time I saw one aide use an angry voice in speaking with a resident who was crying out to her parents to come and rescue her. This lady was doing this for 5 or 6 hours a day, which, of course, was nerve wracking for both residents and staff. Many residents were telling her “Why don’t you shut up?” Some were sticking their fingers in their ears trying to muffle the noise.
The sharp words from the care aide were unacceptable, but perhaps understandable. On the other hand, I have seen thousands of positive interactions between staff and residents that have not been reported in newspapers or auditors’ reports.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, I saw an aide feeding a lady who is difficult to interact with. She kept asking to be taken to her room even though she was eating lunch in the dining room.
For a reason I did not understand, the aide quickly walked away from the lady and stopped in the middle of the dining room. I assumed that something problematic had occurred. Fifteen seconds later the care aide returned to the lady and gave her a long, warm hug, with a big smile on her face and a deep look of kindness in her eyes.
On many other occasions, I have seen aides and nurses walking down hallways, come to residents sitting in wheelchairs with a far-away look in their eyes, and the care home staff stopped, put their hands on the residents’ shoulders, and talked to them quietly. The most obvious part of the interaction was the smile on their faces, the warmth in their eyes, and the joy in their voices.
As the husband of a care home resident, what I have seen has given me great comfort in having Elaine in a Winnipeg care home. Elaine is being very well cared for by employees who love the residents, doing much more than the bare minimum. In fact, Elaine calls the aides and nurses her “angels.”
Elaine is Siksika (Blackfoot), and she tells those who are caring for her that they are like her people. The Siksika say that they are the “real people,” and Elaine wants the aides and nurses to know that they too are “real people.”
This is the highest compliment that a Siksika person can give to another human being. I hope that every care home resident receives the care, kindness, respect, and love that Elaine is receiving. When this care is not being received, it is obvious that corrective action is needed, and the responsible government officials should make the corrections without delay.
When I visit the care homes, my eyes see old people who are not doing well. But I remind myself that these seniors have invested their lives in building our province and country. They built businesses, employed Manitobans, volunteered in many associations, and they raised families. Obviously, they should be treated with respect and care. Of course, they should not be abused.
In the two care homes in which Elaine has lived, Poseidon and Misericordia, the kind and respectful care she has received must be acknowledged. The nurses, and managers need to be praised for the positive things they do for residents, especially those who are not easy to interact with.
Is Tom Brodbeck correct in claiming that the Stefanson government should only be judged by the failures that have been reported in care homes?
Of course not.
The government should be judged by both its failures and its successes. Care home residents and their families must speak about their loved ones’ experiences, both those that have been positive and those that have been negative. Manitoba voters must remember both the government’s successes and failures when they go to the polls in October.
Rodney A. Clifton is professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. His most recent book with Mark DeWolf is From Truth Comes Reconciliation: An Assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (Winnipeg, Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 2021)