'Better vetting obviously' needed, says seniors' advocate after alleged assault at retirement home

·4 min read

Newfoundland and Labrador's seniors' advocate says there needs to be more thorough vetting of credentials of potential staff, after a man with prior convictions of sexual assault allegedly faked documents that claimed he was a licensed practical nurse and assaulted a resident at a retirement home.

Christopher Power, 44, is charged with sexual assault, uttering forged documents, falsifying documents and using the title of licensed practical nurse when not qualified to do so.

The Bay Roberts RCMP say he sexually assaulted a resident at the Bay Roberts Retirement Centre where he was hired as an LPN.

Court documents show Power has three prior sexual assault convictions from 1998.

Power was arrested Aug. 16, the day the RCMP were called about the alleged assault. He is scheduled to appear in provincial court Nov. 18.

RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Jolene Garland said the public release was not issued earlier because of the ongoing investigation.

I think this is a topic that sometimes people cannot believe — they cannot fathom that this kind of thing can possibly happen. - Suzanne Brake

"In the case of this [investigation], the public safety issue was addressed on the day it was reported, so on August 16th, 2020, we received the report from the seniors' home there, Bay Roberts Retirement Centre, attended, conducted an investigation and took an individual into custody, so that was actioned immediately," she said.

"As for the remainder of the investigation, that took some time to gather the necessary evidence to lay the charges that we released."

Suzanne Brake, the provincial seniors' advocate, said it's "very startling and disappointing" to hear of a case like this, and said there should be a more thorough review and background check before people are allowed to work with vulnerable populations.

"I think it's very disappointing that that type of information wasn't vetted more carefully," she said.

"My understanding of our whole health-care system is that when people apply for positions, they are vetted, that there are checks — police checks, vulnerable persons checks — that their qualifications are vetted … I don't know what happened, but I can only imagine that in most instances these types of this are well vetted."

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

Brake pointed to the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador, which keeps a register of licensed nurses working in the province, as a point of contact for checking credentials.

A spokesperson for the college said they are not aware of a previous case like this one, and added that potential employers should check their Find a Nurse website feature for a public register of LPNs licensed to work in the province.

The college did not comment further, adding the issue is before the courts.

A spokesperson at the Bay Roberts Retirement Centre also declined to comment, citing the ongoing court case.

Expand training protocols

Brake said whatever happens with the court case, there need to be stricter checks and training of staff working with seniors and other people in care home environments.

"I think that there needs to be better vetting, obviously, of qualifications, and greater supervision in terms of what are the types of people who are actually going to work through our personal-care home systems or our long-term-care system, and through the home support system, because there are lots of people who have very little training who are actually working in the home support system," she said.

"And the question then remains: have they received the education, the knowledge, do they have the skills to work with people who have physical or intellectual or other kinds of challenges, and are they understanding and recognizing what violence can look like?"

Raising awareness is a key issue for Brake, who said people sometimes have a difficult time understanding how violence happens in these settings.

"I think this is a topic that sometimes people cannot believe — they cannot fathom that this kind of thing can possibly happen, so raising awareness is extremely important," she said.

"Ensuring that programs such as Respect Aging, which is a program all about violence prevention against older persons, that that training is being provided."

Brake said the alleged assault is terrible, made even more so by the timing.

"The very unfortunate thing, as well, the very sad thing, is that this has happened during the time of COVID, when families are already extremely stressed about the restrictions on visitation," she said.

"We have to try to figure out a way, if we do have more cases of COVID or any other type of infection, that families continue to have a role in being there with their loved ones so that they can serve as a second layer of security."

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