Alberta's health minister says he was shocked by allegations that mice were nibbling on a dementia patient's face in a Lethbridge long-term care home.
“I'll be very honest with you, I was horrified when I heard about this in the media. I was also extremely angry a situation like this could occur in Alberta. We are not sure what all the exact circumstances are yet, but I do know if I was a family member or a friend of this individual, I'd be extremely concerned," Health Minister Fred Horne said Monday.
Staff came across the incident at St. Therese Villa in Lethbridge on Sept. 1, alleges Sandra Azocar, who speaks for the organization Friends of Medicare in southern Alberta.
"Actually the skin had been broken so she had to get medical treatment for these bites," said Azocar. "They went through her room and found that there was a nest of mice in her closet."
Azocar said the vermin problem was reported by a former employee to the operators of the facility, Covenant Health, one year ago and a bedbug problem was reported nine months ago.
"Management has been less than forthright in terms of dealing with this health hazard," said Azocar.
According to Azocar, the woman who was bitten in the face is recovering, but she said the situation is "the tip of the iceberg."
Home operator responds
St. Therese Villa is operated by Covenant Health, a Catholic organization that has service contracts with Alberta Health Services.
Sheli Murphy, the vice-president of operations, said St. Therese Villa had a problem with mice in the past but refused to comment on this specific incident.
"That's just against Alberta legislation, so the Health Information Act directs me not to talk about this specific situation," said Murphy.
Murphy said on occasion mice do get in, but that is not unusual and staff respond to any infestations very quickly.
Later in the day, Covenant Health vice-president Patrick Dumelie said in a statement that the allegations have not been verified, but the organization is taking immediate steps.
"In collaboration with Alberta Health Services, we have immediately dealt with any environmental concerns — cleaning areas thoroughly according to standards and protocol and are monitoring on an ongoing basis. We will review the situation for quality improvements and implement any necessary changes."
St. Therese Villa opened in 2009 and allows residents to bring in some of their furniture from home. Friends of Medicare believe that has led to not only problems with mice, but with bedbugs as well.
Inspectors headed to Lethbridge
Horne said as soon as he heard about the allegation Monday, he dispatched staff from Alberta Health Services and health ministry inspectors to Lethbridge. Horne said he hadn't heard about previous problems at the facility.
"Who knew what and what did they do about it? So I will be wanting to get to the bottom of that, as well. But first and foremost, this is not something that is acceptable in our province, under any circumstance," he said. "I expect to have some information fairly quickly and I will take whatever action is required and within my authority to deal with this."
Union expresses concern for workers
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has sent a letter to Covenant Health asking that the problems, if they exist, to be fixed immediately.
"We have formally complained about the issue of a mouse infestation at St. Therese Villa in the past, and understood the situation to be resolved. I am very concerned that the issue has either re-emerged, or has been allowed to persist," said AUPE spokesman Dennis Malayko in a press release.
AUPE vice-president Glen Scott said he is concerned that mice and bedbugs pose a risk to staff and residents.
"Aside from the risk a mice infestation presents to immobile seniors, it also creates concerns about staff and seniors being exposed to droppings, carcasses and nests, which can carry deadly hantavirus," said Scott.
"Bedbugs are another big concern, particularly with senior residents who can develop bed sores, or may be recovering from other injuries or surgeries. Cleanliness is no less important in a seniors facility than any other health-care setting."
Lethbridge is 227 kilometres southeast of Calgary.
With files from The Canadian Press