Videos show nursing staff assaulting defenceless patients

U.S. prosecutes abuse by health care providers, Canada turns a blind eye


Shocking video flashed across Canada several weeks ago showing nursing staff forcibly injecting powerful antipsychotic drugs into the body of a bound and hooded, but calm, teenage girl, “without her consent and for no apparent reason,”  (Toronto Star).  By law, and by common sense, prescription drugs are to be administered only when there is a clinical indication that they will have a beneficial therapeutic effect.

Ashley Smith entered Canada’s youth health care/prison system at the age of 14 for the crime of throwing crab apples at a postman. After several years of “treatment”, much or most of it in solitary confinement, debilitated by forced prescription drugs, Ashley strangled herself while prison staff stood idly by, watching. A coroner’s inquest is underway.

We associate state beatings, torture, or injecting drugs into a person as punishment or threat, with the brutality of the Soviet Gulag, or the depravity of the U.S. military prison Abu Ghraib, or modern-day China’s organ harvesting from still-live prisoners. But this is Canada, this is today. We ought to be shocked, ashamed, and galvanized into acting.

What if young Ashley Smith had been an elderly woman in a Canadian nursing home or care facility instead of a jail?

There would likely be no video evidence recorded to reveal the brutal treatment by health care providers. Ashley Smith’s plight would have been hidden, her death unnoticed, unreported and unpunished.

Why? In Canada, mandatory video surveillance in prisons is designed to protect both inmates and staff.  However, elderly citizens in Canadian hospitals and nursing homes have no such protection. Instead, unlike the U.S. (see below), Canadian governments and courts vigorously prohibit video surveillance inside the hospital and nursing home rooms of elderly people.

One wonders about the motivation of our institutions, nurses, bureaucrats, judges. Even though video surveillance is mandated inside prison cells, the Harper Government spent years (and a lot of your taxes) on lawyers, fighting to prevent the Ashley Smith videos and other evidence from being seen by the public.

Correctional Service Canada and a group of doctors backed by a medical malpractice insurer argued that “the coroner does not have the constitutional right to look at any aspect of Smith’s life outside of Ontario.”  However, after the videos were released, outrage reverberated across the country (good on those of you who spoke out) and the federal government lawyers backed down. What were they afraid of people seeing?

The young woman shown in the videos “… ‘is much different than the prison service’s depiction of her as an out-of-control inmate,’ says Kim Pate, an advocate with inmate rights group Elizabeth Fry, who tried to help Smith during her incarceration.

Accountability and transparency are too often aggressively and intentionally ignored and avoided by our governments and authorities, unless and until they are caught in the act and forced by public pressure to acknowledge wrong-doing and change the way health care providers are governed.

U.S. states place hidden video cameras in nursing home residents’ rooms to protect elderly from abuse by staff

In comparison to Canada, the United States takes a much more proactive response to protecting elderly people from abuse by health care providers.

In 2005, New York State began placing hidden video cameras inside the rooms of nursing home residents (with the approval of the patient or family), and many states have followed New York’s lead. The attorneys-general in these states introduced video cameras to safeguard elderly residents after receiving many complaints from family members who suspected abuse by staff. Previously, convictions of institutional elder abusers were difficult to obtain because of a lack of hard evidence. After the state installed hidden cameras, state attorney-general offices reported that the number of criminal charges and convictions increased substantially, and plans were made to increase the use of hidden video surveillance inside elderly nursing home residents’ rooms to monitor for institutional elder abuse.

“Today’s message is clear: my office is watching like a hawk when it comes to the treatment and care of New York’s most vulnerable patients and will not tolerate the kind of disturbing neglect and abuse we’ve witnessed,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “This is the fourth time our hidden-camera surveillance has revealed despicable cases of callous and life-threatening patient treatment at nursing homes across the state.” New York Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo Oct 7, 2008

Here’s an example of how a single hidden video camera resulted in a felony assault charge against staff the Prentiss Center for Skilled Nursing [yes, the irony is painful] in Cleveland, Ohio. In this case, the son of an elderly Alzheimers patient hid a camera in his mother’s room when he became suspicious of red marks on her face and noticed that she started to raise her hands in fear whenever he visited.

However when the son brought his concerns to the care facility, he was rebuffed, “They made me out to be the trouble maker, the complainer, the bad guy,”  he said.

When he made the videos public, police investigated, charges of felony assault were laid, and staff were fired. The chief of geriatric care at Cleveland’s MetroHealth health system later stated he was “incredibly sorry”, but he denied that the son’s complaints were ignored, claiming that the hospital and the health department investigated the claims but didn’t find anything.” This is another good example of why self-regulation of professional groups and industries just doesn’t work.

The lesson for us all to take from this case is that, without hard video evidence, health care providers, care facilities and administrators can easily evade scrutiny, accountability and punishment, and elderly citizens in residential care continue to live in gut-wrenching fear and danger.

Canadian governments prosecute family members who obtain video evidence of institutional elder abuse

In Canada, health care professionals and care facility administrators operate freely inside residents’ room without any video scrutiny by authorities.

Despite disturbing revelations of elder abuse committed by health care providers in Canada, such as those exposed in a recent Toronto Star investigative series, there are no video cameras installed in Canadian nursing home rooms to help ensure elderly residents are not abused by staff or other residents or strangers off-the-street who wander in, or to help identify and prosecute institutional elder abuse perpetrators.

And, in Canada, health care providers and bureaucrats are all-but-immune to prosecution for elder abuse crimes. Indeed, in Canada people who report institutional elder abuse (usually family members and friends) are often bullied, harassed or threatened by authorities and lawyers hired by the perpetrators.

In extreme contrast to the United States where benevolent protection of vulnerable elderly people in care is the goal, Canadian courts actually prosecute family members who obtain video evidence of institutional elder abuse.

In January 2010 a provincial superior court judge banned a video showing nursing home staff assaulting an elderly man. The images were captured by a video camera hidden by the man’s family in a Kamloops, B.C. nursing home. The B.C. Supreme Court order stated that the video is to be banned forever, and that no one is permitted to even describe what the video shows.

Welcome to Gulag B.C., where institutional elder abusers are protected by the courts, and shielded by regulators and by politicians, whose empty words are betrayed by their profound lack of concrete, meaningful action and results.

The British Columbia government applied for this court order through the Interior Health Authority, an agency that oversees and runs regional hospitals and nursing homes. Just as their U.S. counterparts did, the Interior Health Authority denied any abuse, claiming that it had sought the court order “to protect staff privacy”. Although the judge appeared to believe the video did show incriminating evidence, no charges were ever laid against the staff of this government-run nursing home, even though the elderly man died a short while later. Unlike their U.S. counterparts however, Canadian health care providers got away with it.

It seems that protection of staff privacy (and, by extension, protection of their paymasters) – even in the event of a possible homicide – takes priority over the health, safety, well-being, and even survival of elderly persons who unfortunately find themselves in Canadian “care” facilities.

When a society permits criminal acts to go unpunished (and not even investigated by police and regulators whose job is to enforce our laws), and when the Courts aid and abet the concealment of evidence, then that society is no longer governed by the rule of law. 
One question we should be asking is, “Why are our health care providers exempt from laws that apply to all other Canadian citizens?”
Elderly Canadians in our health care system can only wish they were as protected and respected as elderly Americans in nursing homes, or even convicted Canadian felons in jail. We are sweeping the lives of elderly citizens in residential “care” under the rug where their sub-standard lives, suffering and tragic deaths – crimes though they may be – continue to go unnamed and unpunished.  

Knowledge. Compassion. Courage. Action.

Take a stand against institutional elder abuse.  

Write your elected representatives, voice your concerns online, let others know what’s happening, or… take whatever steps you think will help make a difference to protect seniors’ legal and human rights from abuse by Canadian health care institutions and public agencies.

The Coalition to Support SENIORS AT RISK

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  1. VIDEOS SHOW… I went through something similar. When I discovered my mother badly beaten, and the staff refused to tell me what had happened, I documented her injuries with a video camera. The harassment and bullying started then – I was forbidden to videotape my own mother, and the harassment escalated over a number of years, until they finally succeeded in precipitating my mother’s untimely death.

    Comment by Heather — November 30, 2012 @ 3:56 am

  2. VIDEOS SHOW… They can only do this if it stays secret. Time to start posting those pix on a website. You can black out a face. THIS WILL ONLY CHANGE IF THEY ARE PUBLICLY EXPOSED. YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A JOURNALIST DO IT FOR YOU. WORDPRESS.COM IS FREE.

    POST PICTURES, AND NAME NAMES!! for the facility, and doctor in charge. Create an account, using a hotmail, gmail, or yahoo pseudonym, and post your succinct and most damning experience and critique of your doctor here:

    Comment by riv — December 12, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  3. VIDEOS SHOW STAFF… Disturbing article. However, the problems experienced in Canada are no different to those in the UK, with the exception, perhaps, that video evidence would most likely be allowed in court – if a case ever gets that far – almost always instigated by bereaved relatives rather than the authorities who could and should be acting to protect and defend the vulnerable. I believe that prosecuting and punishing those found guilty of such cruelty and inhumanity is the only way to change the culture, otherwise it cannot be long before some bereft and broken family member takes the law into their own hands and seeks their own form of justice. In the face of such inertia from the Establishment, I, for one, wouldn’t blame them. The irony is that the Establishment will be sure to come down on them like a ton of bricks! It’s a mad world.

    Comment by Sali — January 8, 2013 @ 8:45 am

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