The owner of two New Brunswick special-care homes didn’t follow the rules when it came to reporting a missing resident, administering medication, or general health standards in the months before the Department of Social Development shut them down in January, according to documents obtained by CBC News.
“I am of the opinion that you are operating in a manner that is of inadequate quality, and is dangerous, destructive and damaging to its users,” wrote then-Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard, in a letter informing the owner of Villa Neguac and Foyer St-Bernard that they had to terminate operations.
Shephard’s Jan. 17 letter was sent the same day her department announced it was revoking the homes’ operating licences to protect the safety and well-being of residents.
At the time, the department said the homes would be shuttered by Feb. 17, forcing their 29 residents to find new places to live before that date.
The provincial government has repeatedly declined to disclose exactly what prompted their decision to revoke the licences for the homes, but new details have emerged through a request CBC News filed under the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Those details are contained in the letter Shephard sent the homes’ owner informing them they were to be shut down.
The letter’s recipient has been redacted, however, Amarjeet Singh Jatana was listed at the time as the director for both of the homes in New Brunswick’s corporate registry.
Villa Neguac was later purchased by a new operator and kept open, while Foyer St-Bernard has remained closed since the deadline for residents to leave.
“I was informed that Social Development staff received several complaints from May to August 2022 for Villa Neguac Ltee and Foyer St-Bernard (2021) Ltee,” Shephard said, in her letter.
Shephard said staff attempted to discuss concerns, and work with the homes’ owner prior to and during the investigations, however, discussions were “unproductive” and at other times, they did not respond to phone calls and email messages.
“With the information obtained during the investigation, I have concluded that you are operating the community placement residential facilities without approval from the minister, and have failed to make provisions for proper care and attention to the residents,” Shephard wrote.
Shephard went on to list 16 items that the homes were in violation of under the province’s Adult Residential Facilities standards, which included:
- Laws and regulations.
- Application process.
- Approval process.
- Financial management.
- Reporting an incident.
- Reporting a missing resident.
- Quality of service.
- Employment criteria for all staff.
- General health standards.
- Staff ratio.
- Nutrition services.
- Administration of medication.
- Special services.
- Money management.
- Residents rights.
The details surrounding the circumstances that qualified those infractions remain unknown, however.
While Shephard’s letter was included in the right-to-information response to CBC News, the Department of Social Development refused to share the report from the investigation into the homes.
“The investigation report was not included in your records as it is protected under the Family Services Act, specifically section 27(3) which states that ‘except for use in a court proceeding no such statement, declaration or evidence may be inspected by any person without the written authorization of the Minister’,” said Andrea Vail, a privacy officer with the department, in an email.
Shephard resigned from her cabinet role in June amid turmoil within the Progressive Conservative Party over changes to a policy affecting LGBTQ students in New Brunswick’s public schools.
CBC News asked for an interview with new Social Development Minister Jill Green, Shephard, and staff with Social Development about what specifically prompted the closure of the homes, and what lessons had been learned since.
Department spokesperson Rebecca Howland responded by email, saying no one from the department can speak on the matter to protect the privacy of those living in long-term care facilities.
CBC News also emailed Jatana requesting an interview about what happened at the two homes, but did not receive a response.
Violations no surprise, says mayor
Following the province’s revocation of the homes’ licences, former staff at both of the homes told CBC News their boss failed to pay bills for food, electricity and waste services in the months leading up to the homes’ closure.
Neguac Mayor Georges Savoie had been following issues as they unfolded at the homes, and said the contents of Shephard’s letter don’t surprise him given the concerns he heard from former employees and the families of residents.
“I think it’s reflective of what the people working there were kind of trying to say,” Savoie said.
“They knew that some of that stuff was not right but the problem is the department takes a long time to investigate. It takes a lot to close [special-care] homes. It’s not something that they take easy.”
Emails between Social Development staff also paint a rough timeline between receiving complaints, to the investigation, to the final report and ultimate decision to close the homes.
On June 16, 2022, Kristine Williston Hovey, a social worker with the department, sent a colleague an email with the subject “RE: IMPORTANT Situation at Foyer St-Bernard and Villa Neguac,” in which she discussed setting up a meeting “to further discuss the issues at hand.”
The names of all persons outside of government have been redacted due to privacy legislation, and large swathes of text even in emails sent by Social Development staff have been redacted.
Another email by Williston Hovey on July 8, 2022, stated that a social worker reported there were broken pipes in Foyer St-Bernard’s septic system, causing a bad odour in the home, and sewage to leak into a nearby river.
I received word that the crisis is ramping up.— Aneas MacInnis, Social Development employee
On Aug. 15, 2022, Joanne Martin, another Social Development employee, sent an email saying Williston Hovey made calls to N.B. Power “to get the power bills paid so it’s not disconnected.”
That same day, Luc Carrier, another Social Development employee, sent an email to Brooklyn Galbraith, Shephard’s special assistant, saying that his department had received “a number of complaints” over the past two to three months regarding the two homes.
Days later, on Aug. 18, 2022, Aneas MacInnis, another Social Development employee, emailed her co-workers saying she had been waiting for direction on how to proceed with an investigation, noting that “at noon today I received word that the crisis is ramping up.”
By Sep. 9, 2022, formal notice of an investigation had been sent to the special-care homes’ owner, followed by the report from that investigation being completed by mid-November.
Province should take over homes, says advocate
In New Brunswick, long-term care homes are privately owned and operated, but staff salaries are largely set by and partly paid for by the provincial government.
To improve transparency and accountability, the province’s involvement in special-care homes should go even further, said Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights.
“They should all be public,” Cassista said.
“I mean, they’re taking tax dollars money to provide care in these homes, and so they’re not taking the actual responsibilities that they should be.”
Barring that, Cassista said the province should make changes that would let it take over operations at homes that don’t meet proper standards.
“They should change legislation to accommodate … taking over the homes because we’re talking about seniors who are vulnerable.”