Hidden camera reel leads to firing in Ontario

Footage shows abuse of resident

A personal support worker at St. Joseph’s at Fleming Long-Term Care Facility was dismissed after footage from a hidden camera in a resident’s room showed abuse by a worker.

A local television journalist approached the Ontario-based employer in May 2013 with footage captured on a hidden video camera placed in a resident’s room by her son.

The video shows personal support worker Peggy Perrault engaging with the resident — then 85 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s — in acts the employer classified as misconduct or abuse of the resident.

Perrault, an employee with the facility since 2007, was fired for what St. Joseph's called the abuse and neglect it witnessed in the footage.

Perrault’s conduct demonstrated a fundamental lack of judgment as well as a disregard for the physical and emotional well-being of the resident, according to the employer.

It argued Perrault’s explanation for her conduct was wholly unsatisfactory.

In the footage, Perrault is seen attempting to offer care to the resident after finding the resident had soiled herself. The resident resists Perrault, slapping her.

Perrault physically restrains the resident and eventually removes her from the bed, grabbing her by the legs, arms and neck.

The resident is later returned to bed and Perrault continues to offer care, eventually waving a soiled cloth in the resident’s face. The resident then becomes agitated and resumes her efforts to resist care.

Perrault finishes providing care and leaves the room.

Marion Schwiebert, acting director of care at the facility at the time of Perrault’s firing, said the resident’s care plan provided warning notes that the resident can strike out or yell at staff offering care. The care plan indicates that when the resident refuses care, staff should not attempt to physically restrain her, but rather leave and re-approach.

Schwiebert said she would be concerned Perrault — who works alone and largely unsupervised — could continue similarly if reinstated.

The employer argued the "horrifying" conduct captured by the hidden camera has no place in a long-term care facility. Employees are held to a high standard of care, the employer said, due to the vulnerabilities of the elderly residents.

St. Joseph's insisted the only way to ensure this type of incident never occurred again was to uphold Perrault’s discharge.

Union argues against dismissal

The Canadian Union of Local Employees (CUPE) Local 2280, however, argued Perrault’s conduct — when viewed in context — is not abusive and does not provide just cause for termination. Perrault’s conduct was not willful or intentional and she accepted responsibility for her actions and apologized for her deficient care.

While the union accepted some form of discipline was warranted, it argued dismissal was excessive.

Perrault said she believed getting the resident cleaned up as quickly as possible was the safest way to proceed. She had no idea how long the resident had been sitting in the soiled bedding, and testified she was worried the resident’s skin could become irritated.

Perrault went on to explain that she showed the resident the soiled cloth so the resident would understand why she needed cleaning, and would then stop resisting care.

Perreault gave the resident the best possible care in difficult circumstances, and would never hurt any of her residents, she said.

After reviewing the footage and testimony, arbitrator John Stout said he could find no reason why Perrault did not leave the resident and re-approach with another employee, as per the facility’s standard procedure when the resident refuses care.

"The grievor knew or ought to have known that she should have respected the resident’s right to refuse care," Stout said. "I find that the grievor’s conduct, as depicted in the video clips, demonstrates a fundamental lack of judgment, falling within the definition of abuse."

Stout found Perrault exaggerated the resident’s condition and downplayed her own culpability, leaving him unconvinced she had learned from her mistake and would not act in a similar manner in the future.

"I find the employer had just cause to terminate the grievor’s employment," Stout ruled, dismissing the grievance.

Reference: St. Joseph’s at Fleming Long-Term Care Facility and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2280. John Stout — arbitrator. Kimberly Pepper for the employer, Gavin Leeb for the union. Jan. 22, 2015.

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