Resident on Resident Abuse in Personal Care Homes: My Family’s Personal Experience

Since Mom was admitted into a personal care home early last April, she has experienced verbal and physical abuse by two other residents on two separate occasions within the span of six months. Both incidents also occurred in separate homes but the response by staff and management were similar in both cases.

The first situation occurred after Mom was admitted into the first senior’s care facility after finishing her stay at the rehab hospital. The roommate Mom was assigned to share a room with had a known history in the home of abusing other roommates. We were never told this woman had abused two other roommates previously. In fact, we were told by the admissions staff that they personally selected roommates for residents based on personality and compatibility to make sure they were a good fit. The staff also reassured us that the PCH had a zero-tolerance policy for resident abuse.

At the time, the care home had very a restrictive COVID-19 visitation schedule so we could only see Mom every second day during set times on weekdays. Weekend visits were not permitted. During our visits, the roommate was always pleasant and at times, quite chatty. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. 

We found out Mom was being abused by her roommate three weeks after Mom was admitted to the geriatric centre. A nurse witnessed the roommate abusing Mom one Saturday and intervened. The nurse then reported the abuse to the resident manager and phoned my brother on the Sunday to let the family know what happened. 

After my brother finished talking to the nurse, he called me immediately to tell me of what happened. It was shocking and devastating to hear that our beloved Mom was being abused, especially in a place where Mom should have been safe. It was even more difficult because we couldn’t go see her or protect her ourselves. With the strict COVID-19 visitation policies, we were not allowed into the nursing home.

I immediately called Mom to talk to her about the situation. During our conversation, I found out that the abuse started after Mom arrived at the home and it was progressively getting worse. Mom feared the woman was going to physically attack her.

I also found out that staff heard the roommate repeatedly abuse Mom and did nothing. The only person to do something was the nurse who intervened and reported it.

After talking to Mom, I called the resident manager who confirmed she knew about the situation. She tried to reassure me that she had dealt with it by talking to the roommate. She stated she told the roommate that she had to use her ‘nice words’. She also stated that they would be monitoring the roommate by checking in the room every ten to 15 minutes.

That was not good enough. Knowing this woman’s history and the lack of action by the staff, I would not leave mom in a room with a known abuser. I told the resident manager that I wanted that woman out of mom’s room and that I told Mom if it happens again, she’s to call me immediately and I will call the police.  The resident manager told me that they only act when family says something. Because I said something, they would look into moving the roommate to another room. The roommate was moved to a smaller single occupancy room on another floor within ten minutes after my phone call with the resident manager.

The most recent incident started soon after a new roommate was admitted into Mom’s room in the personal care home she is currently residing in. This new roommate had dementia and was very verbal, always complaining that her hand hurt or she was cold. On the second day, Mom was crying while I was on the phone with her because the new roommate, although not acting abusive, wouldn’t leave Mom alone. Mom talked to a staff member about the situation while I was on the phone with her.

As the days passed, the roommate started verbally abusing and bullying mom. I talked to the nursing manager about it one Friday during my visit with Mom. Because of her behaviour, the roommate could not be in a room with another person.

Rather than move the roommate, the staff asked Mom to consider moving to another room on different unit. The room they showed her was much smaller and, as Mom stated, dingier and dirtier. She found the new room depressing and the unit very loud.  We asked why mom should be the one to move when this woman’s behaviour was the issue. The response was that they had to take everyone into consideration and look at the bigger picture.

By Saturday, the situation escalated to dangerous. The roommate was not only verbally abusing and threatening Mom all day, but she was also trying to physically hit and shove Mom with her walker. The staff could hear the abuse and Mom’s distress but did not intervene.

My brother called Mom early evening for their daily chat. Hearing Mom cry while the roommate openly abused her was very alarming and upsetting. He was angry to find out that no one was stepping into to stop the physical and verbal abuse. My brother told mom to call a staff member into the room while he was on the phone. He spoke to a healthcare aide and the head nurse about the abuse. He demanded the roommate be removed immediately and told the nurse if roommate wasn’t taken out of the room and away from Mom immediately, he would call the police. The roommate was moved to her own room soon after the call. She is now under constant supervision by staff.

In both instances, staff could hear the roommates’ behaviour and threats but nothing to stop the abuse or protect Mom. Staff intervened in both cases only after we threatened to call the police.

The care home Mom currently resides in has also stated they do not act on situations unless family become involved.  Throughout these two incidents, we have seen firsthand how personal care homes, while they claim to have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse, are not prepared to respond to or protect the residents from abuse by another resident. And in both situations, if we had not intervened and threatened to involve the police, Mom would have been left in the horrific situation where she would have been at the mercy of an abusive roommate. That realization sickens me.

Mom never told us about the abuse because she didn’t want to bother us or put more work on our shoulders. As an independent woman who lived on her own and cared for herself for decades before the stroke, Mom felt bad that we had to look after her affairs. She didn’t want to be a burden to us because of her current circumstances. She also felt embarrassed and ashamed that she was in such a situation.

Since the first incident, we have had many conversations with Mom and are continually reassuring her that she will never be a burden to us. We also reassure her that we will always be there to protect her and look out for her best interests and she can talk to us about anything.  

As family, we put our trust in the staff and policies of personal care homes to look after our loved ones. When situations of abuse happen and those in charge do nothing to stop it, it is devastating and breaks that trust.

While this is our family’s story, we know that Mom is not alone. Over one third of residents in long term care facilities are abused. Those are the known cases. There are likely many more cases that are not reported. While many cases involve staff abusing resident, residents abusing residents is happening more often than the public realize. We have seen firsthand that many PCHs are not prepared to deal with resident-on-resident abuse.

As for our family, Mom’s safety and wellbeing will always be our priority. We hope it never happens again but if Mom is ever put in an abusive situation again, we won’t threaten to call the police, we’ll just do it. We don’t care what the reason is for the resident’s behaviour, abuse cannot and should never be tolerated or excused.

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