Health minister considers disclosure of violent deaths in N.S. nursing homes
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's minister of health says he's considering public disclosure of nursing home deaths caused by violence between residents, after records obtained by The Canadian Press showed five such fatalities went unreported since 2008.
Leo Glavine said Monday potential disclosure will be addressed in the Liberal government's continuing care strategy coming this year.
Glavine said he'll "give every consideration" to changing the policy and allowing public notification on the deaths -- as occurs in Ontario through the chief coroner's office -- but added he's reluctant to tie the deaths to specific nursing homes out of concern for the privacy of families.
"I absolutely believe in 100 per cent transparency of any death. Yes, they involve dementia in many cases, but ... are there ongoing assessments to make sure the client is in the right place in the nursing home? We need to have constant vigilance," he said.
Both opposition parties have called for public notification after medical examiner records released through freedom of information showed five out of eight deaths -- usually due to shoving or altercations -- weren't revealed over the past eight years.
The records include brief details, such as a witness calling out "Hey, hey, hey" before observing a 71-year-old man fatally shove an 81-year-old last September at Parkstone Enhanced Care residence in Halifax. Another report from May 2009 at Glen Haven home in New Glasgow says, "medical records...describe an altercation at the home during which the deceased was pushed."
Three pushing deaths that did become public emerged because the Halifax police issued news releases announcing homicide investigations beginning and then being dropped due to a lack of mental capacity. Other police forces didn't issue news releases.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said he frequently visits nursing homes around the province, and has become concerned there are underlying problems such as crowding and a shortage of staff available to work with residents who may have symptoms of aggression due to dementia.
"We want to know our grandparents are safe when they're in a nursing home. Even when staff are doing their best, these things happen and they should be reported so that we can make good decisions about how to keep people safe," he said in an interview.
Dave Wilson, the NDP's health critic, said public reporting of deaths caused by resident-on-resident violence should occur regularly, just as the public is informed on wait times and ER closures.
"The government needs to ... support health care providers to get the additional training so they can minimize the altercations and the aggression currently occurring in the facilities," he said.
Annette Fougere, chair of the continuing care council of the Health Association of Nova Scotia, says the nursing home sector is making progress in training staff to deal with aggression.
"We speak of it quite often and participate with whatever group is doing work on it, whether it's the Department of Health or ourselves," said Fougere, who is also a nursing home director.
The Health Department has had a challenging behaviour program since 2004, and it has experts to help nursing homes who are housing residents with violent or aggressive behaviours.
It also provides a special on-site training program with a curriculum that includes elements of how to decrease aggression.
Health Department spokesman Tony Kiritsis said as of last year, about 59 per cent of the 2,418 licensed and registered nurses in the long-term care facilities had received the course.