Minette Firth was shocked when she pulled up at her sister's care home in Stephenville, on the Newfoundland and Labrador's west coast, on July 18.
She had travelled from New Glasgow, N.S. to visit her 46-year-old sister, who has intellectual disabilities and requires 24-hour care.
"When we walked up to the house, we could see Allison in the window. She was just walking in circles. There was no TV, no books no nothing. Just walking in circles," recalled Firth.
Firth says she knocked on the main door of the two-storey home and two workers came to let her in. When she went to open the door to her sister's basement apartment, it was locked.
Allison Decker told her she had been locked in for hours.
"You could see Allison was visibly scared. She kept apologising over and over and over. She asked if she was going to be allowed to eat supper with them that day. You could just tell she was really scared," said Firth.
Firth and Decker are originally from Three Mile Rock on the Northern Peninsula. Decker, days after she was born, suffered multiple seizures that caused significant brain damage. Firth says as Decker got older, her parents were no longer able to meet her needs.
She moved from care home to care home, but most recently lived in the basement apartment of a house operated by the Bay St. George Residential Support Board.
Companies like the Residential Support Board offer care to adults with intellectual disabilities, with funding coming from the province's Department of Health and Community Services. Additional funding, if clients are eligible, may be provided by the Community Support Program through Western Health.
Firth believed her sister was receiving 24-hour care, but after her visit this summer she alleges her sister — who has the mental capacity of a three-year-old — was being mistreated.
"I feel like I failed her as a sister. I feel like I failed her. We didn't know. If we hadn't gotten there at the exact time, we still probably wouldn't know. If we had gotten there 10 minutes later, they could have had the door unlocked and we wouldn't have known a thing," she said.
"She wasn't allowed food after 5:30 p.m. No snacks or nothing until breakfast the next morning.
"Her fridge was locked, there was a lock on her fridge."
Firth took her concerns to social media in July, and says she received dozens of messages from past and present staff that work for the Bay St. George Residential Support Board, describing in detail some of the ways Decker was allegedly mistreated and abused.
Firth learned that Decker was forced to walk laps around her basement apartment to earn some petty cash; money Firth says was actually a gift from her and her parents.
She says she was also told of an incident where staff mocked and teased her sister through a monitoring system when Decker woke up in the middle of the night after wetting herself. Firth claims her sister was crying out for help through the monitor, but the staff just laughed at her.
"The information that has come to me about the residential board, about Allison's personal care, is just so hurtful. It's just so unbelievable," she said.
After the family visit in July, Firth took immediate action to move her sister to another care home in the area. On Aug. 20, Decker was moved to a new house with a different company called Momentum, where staff provide 24-hour monitoring and care.
Firth now calls her sister multiple times a day using an iPad she provided.
"The changes in Allison's face, even when we FaceTime, is just crazy. She is just a lot happier, sleeping a lot better. They are trying to undo some of the damage," she said.
Western Health investigating
Firth says the new staff are encouraging Decker to eat and drink her own food whenever she chooses.
While she knows her sister is in much better care, she believes the staff and managers with the Bay St. George Residential Support Board should face consequences for the alleged mistreatment, and even face criminal charges of abuse and neglect.
"These workers that abused my sister and the management that allowed it to happen need to be charged," she said.
According to Firth, a social worker with Western Health is investigating Decker's time with the company.
CBC requested an interview with the executive director of Bay St George Residential Support Board, Michelle King. But she declined any comment.
"Western Health is reviewing this situation." - statement from health board
Western Health confirmed it's looking into this case.
"Western Health is reviewing this situation and not able to comment on the individual circumstances of this case," a spokesperson said in a statement to CBC.
Firth continues to talk to her sister multiple times a day, while she waits for the results of the investigation.