Sisters felt 'terrible helplessness' as 87-year-old mother was assaulted in care home

·4 min read
Sisters Jeanie and Julia Warnock went to police after reviewing footage from a camera they left in their elderly mother’s room at the Peter D. Clark Long-Term Care Centre. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Sisters Jeanie and Julia Warnock went to police after reviewing footage from a camera they left in their elderly mother’s room at the Peter D. Clark Long-Term Care Centre. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada - image credit)

After inquiring about bruises they'd seen on their 87-year-old mother, Jeanie and Julia Warnock were told by an official at the Peter D. Clark Long-Term Care Centre that the injuries she suffered were possibly self-inflicted.

After a review of various factors, including behaviour patterns and the home's own video footage, it was determined the bruising could have resulted from banging and hitting objects, such as tables, doors and windows, the official told them.

"Every time I went over there in the evening she would tell me, 'Are you sleeping over? I don't want you to go home. Can you sleep with me? Can you sleep in my bed with me? Can you take me home?'" Jeanie Warnock told CBC News in a recent interview.

"People just say she's confused because she has Alzheimer's. But she sounded scared."

Already unsatisfied with what they had been hearing from the city-run home, the two sisters were contacting City of Ottawa officials, the province and staff, trying to understand what was happening to the woman who raised them.

Jeanie Warnock said she felt a "terrible helplessness" hearing her mother's frightful complaints. She had only been placed in the facility in February 2022 after their father died.

CBC has agreed not to name the mother because her dementia means she is unable to consent.

Video shows woman pulling her to the floor

Ottawa police recently charged a 25-year-old personal support worker at the home with one count of assault. They said they arrested the woman after relatives noticed "unexplained bruising," placed a video camera in the elderly woman's room, and came to police with what they saw on March 28.

Julia Warnock installed the camera shortly after seeing her mother's first bruises.

The footage, which CBC News has viewed, shows a personal support worker entering the woman's bedroom on March 16. The employee begins to scold the elderly woman.

The mother repeatedly asks the worker to leave and begins to flail her arms as she becomes more agitated. Eventually, the 87-year-old is pulled down onto the ground.

The personal support worker leaves her there, turns out the light and closes the door behind her when she leaves.

Later, the mother is seen showing her arms to another staff member at the home.

Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada
Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada

Julia Warnock said she was horrified when she reviewed the footage weeks later.

"I felt bad because I was behind in [watching] the footage," she said, beginning to cry. "It took me so long to find [that incident]."

The city, which runs Peter D. Clark, said it will co-operate with the police investigation. The employee was removed from the facility while management conducted an initial investigation, the city said, and no longer works for the city.

"The city remains committed to the health, safety and well-being of all long-term care residents," said Dean Lett, the city's director of long-term care, in a statement Thursday.

"All incidents of alleged abuse are taken seriously and are investigated accordingly."

Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada
Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada

While the video is upsetting, Glenn Warnock, who has power of attorney for his mother, doesn't want it to reflect poorly on other staff at the home. He said the people he's interacted with seem dedicated to their work and to providing an adequate level of care.

"From my perspective, at some point, somebody like my mother has to be in some kind of care facility just because her needs are such that it's really hard to provide them at home," he said.

While it's clear the situation was mishandled, he said he also believes many of his mother's bruises were self-inflicted — and although it's possible there were other incidents, he's not certain.

"The first thing that comes up is a question of, what goes on in these places that we don't know about, right? And if we didn't have the video [camera] in there."

Looking at the options afforded to families with aging loved ones, he said he still feels city-run homes remain one of the better options.

WATCH | Bruising appeared soon after mother moved into home, daughter says

Reviewing photos of their mom, the two daughters are reminded of her indomitable spirit, of the woman who rode horses in the country and lived her life in rural Moose Creek, Ont.

They'd like to see their mother removed from the facility, and hope she'll return to her home in the Township of North Stormont.

By talking about what happened, Julia and Jeanie Warnock hope they can prevent similar situations, and that their mother's case demonstrates shortcomings in the system.

The two women still have questions about how the support worker was allowed that kind of power over her mother, a responsibility they feel falls on the people running Peter D. Clark.

"If I didn't have that camera there, what would have happened to my mother?" Julia Warnock asks. "Like, would the abuse have escalated? Would she have broken a hip or a wrist?"

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