A former nurse at a Cape Breton care home for people with mental disabilities has been found guilty of assaulting a female resident.

Donald Bernard Donovan of Glace Bay has been convicted of slapping a female resident while trying to feed her at the former Braemore Home in Sydney River in April 2011.

Donovan was charged after a co-worker reported seeing the assault.

The victim, 63-year-old Paulette Nicholson, can’t speak or walk and her sisters say the incident wasn’t the first.

They are calling the verdict a relief, saying the incident was the last straw in a long line of what they called “unexplained injuries” suffered by their sister at Braemore.

“She’s had lots of instances where things have happened in the past, and we always kind of gave them the benefit of the doubt, but it had gotten to the point where something had to be done,” says Linda Thompson.

“When her care and welfare aren’t getting taken care of, and things are happening over and over, there’s got to be a reason for it.”

They visited Nicholson at the Braemore Home for nearly 50 years. Until recently, they felt the home had been underequipped and outdated.

“The residents would be sitting there in the hallways, basically sitting on the floor moaning,” says Mary MacNeil. “As a child, that was a scary environment.”

Complaints about resident care had become all-too-common at the Braemore, but that has since changed.

Last year, the province brought in new management after an autistic man was locked in a lit room for days.

The home is being renamed the Breton Ability Centre. The name change reflects a broader new philosophy of focusing more on residents’ abilities than their disabilities.

The centre’s new CEO says facilities like Braemore used to be about treatment. Now they are encouraging independence instead.

“We are expanding programs in our life works centre. Our literacy programs, banking, cooking lessons,” says Millie Colbourne. “We want people to be ready to move into the community.”

Nicholson’s sisters say they are noticing major improvements in the care home, but feel they have come only because family members like themselves have spoken out.

Donovan is set to be sentenced in February.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald