Durham Regional Police are now investigating after a whistleblower at a Courtice retirement home says management removed the door handles on rooms of COVID-19 positive residents, “trapping” them in their suites for days in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly virus.
The employee, who wished to remain anonymous, tells CityNews that a manager at the White Cliffe Terrace Retirement Residence ordered maintenance staff to remove door handles on some fourth-floor assisted living suites last week.
The employee claims it was done to prevent COVID-19 positive residents from freely moving around the facility.
“It’s disgusting,” the staffer told CityNews. “There is no excuse to remove (the handles), in essence trapping someone in a room for any reason.”
The whistleblower alleges the handles were off the doors for several days until a head office employee discovered it and complained.
The manager who ordered them removed was placed on leave on Monday, the whistleblower added.
“It was the COVID patients (that were affected),” the employee alleged. “It’s a safety issue. It’s just wrong on so many levels.”
The employee says affected residents still had access to food and were checked on by staff who tried to work around the lack of door handles
“Some of the staff were actually locked in (the rooms). They would go in and the door would be shut behind them and they would be locked in and they would have to call somebody to let them (out).”
White Cliffe Terrace is one of 18 Verve Senior Living retirement homes across Ontario. Verve also has properties in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
On its website, Verve says monthly prices at White Cliffe begin at $3,487 a month for a 215 square foot studio, climbing to $6,052 a month for a 575 square foot two-bedroom apartment.
Diversicare Canada, the company that manages White Cliffe, confirmed that it is aware of the incident and has launched an internal review.
In a statement to CityNews, David Bird, President and Chief Executive Officer of Diversicare Canada, said removal of the handles was “a violation of our protocols and practices.”
“As soon as we became aware of the incident, all resident’s door handles were immediately reinstalled. The general manager was immediately placed on leave as soon as we learned of the incident.”
“We are thankful no residents were harmed due to these actions and I am thankful that this serious incident was brought to our attention.”
“There is absolutely no excuse to remove door handles – ever. We never lock in or prevent the free movement of our residents.”
“We are continuing our investigation and will take appropriate actions once that investigation is complete.” Bird added.
Bird also confirms that the family members of the residents involved have since been notified.
“Residents and family members trust us to provide a very high standard of service to our residents and we let them down. We will do everything we can to earn back their trust.”
Durham police tell CityNews that after receiving more information, an investigation into the incident at White Cliffe Terrace began Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the whistleblower says management is trying to keep the story under wraps.
“We were all told we are not to speak about it. They are trying to hide it.”