WINNIPEG — Marsha Palansky is bringing charges of criminal negligence against the Simkin Centre, Winnipeg’s only Jewish nursing home, in the death of her mother, Lil Peck, a 93-year-old resident who died last year after being transferred to a hospital where she was found to have severe, untreated bed sores.
In a statement, Palansky’s lawyer, Harvey Berkal, said the Criminal Code allows private citizens to lay criminal charges in cases where the police or government fail to do so.
It’s rare for serious charges to be laid this way, said Berkal, whose father, the late Rabbi Louis Berkal, was also a resident of the Simkin Centre (also known as the Sharon Home) in his last months and received what some members of his family consider sub-par care.
“A year after her death, no charges had yet been laid in the case of Lilyan Peck,” Berkal said, “despite a report in July by the Manitoba Protection of Persons in Care Office which found that she had been subject to abuse due to physical neglect, a situation for which the Sharon Home nursing home was responsible.”
Palansky is also filing a charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm against the nursing home under Section 221 of the Criminal Code. “We laid this second charge in case we have legal evidentiary problems in proving that the death of Lilyan Peck was specifically caused by the ‘abuse by neglect’ committed by the home,” Berkal said.
The case is scheduled to go before a justice of the peace Nov. 7 to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to issue the charges.
This latest development follows the release in mid-October of a provincial government review that gave the Simkin Centre a passing grade in 25 of 26 categories.
While the centre’s board is pleased with the results, Palansky and Harriet Berkal Sarbit (Harvey Berkal’s sister), whose lobbying led to the review, aren’t impressed.
The nearly 100-year-old community institution opened its new south Winnipeg location in 2002 and completed the facility in 2008. The new building may be state-of-the-art, but Berkal Sarbit, Palansky and their supporters say it lacks a heart, leadership and care for its residents.
At the beginning of the year, Palansky, Berkal Sarbit and representatives of three other families with relatives in the home formed an informal association and demanded a government investigation of the facility.
“The administration wouldn’t meet with us as a group,” Berkal Sarbit said.
“They called us troublemakers,” Palansky added.
In light of the administration’s stonewalling, the families turned to the province. Berkal Sarbit has nothing but praise for the positive response and support from the Ministry of Health and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), which oversees nursing homes in the city.
The Protection of Persons in Care Office (PPCO) review of Peck’s treatment was critical of the lack of care she received.
The most recent report was a performance-standards review of the home by the WRHA. Normally, reviews of these provincial standards are held every two years and address 12 standards at a time. Never before has a personal care home asked for a full 26-standard review, and it’s the first time one has been conducted in Manitoba.
“We are very pleased with the results,” said Phyllis Spigelman, co-chair of the Simkin Centre, in a statement. “Our success in the review process is a testament to our staff and our board. This review has been an important experience for us, and we look forward to addressing the recommendations as part of our quality improvement plan.”
One of the concerns Berkal Sarbit and Palansky have is that the WRHA report doesn’t provide many details.
“For all we know, the Simkin Centre may have only received a minimum pass in some of the categories,” Berkal Sarbit said.
Palansky said the one area the Simkin Centre failed to pass – having an integrated care plan for each resident – is one of the most important. The category encompasses dietary and medical needs, as well as following up with physicians and appropriate health-care teams and updating family members on residents’ conditions.
Palansky and Berkal Sarbit have been highly critical of Sandra Delorme, the Simkin Centre’s president and CEO for the past nine years. They claim she rarely visits patients and doesn’t know most of their names. Delorme is currently on medical leave and won’t be back before the end of the year, Spigelman said. Her duties are being performed by CFO Harvey Kinsman and director of care Allana Kull.
The next report to come will be from Louis Kafka, CEO of the Louis Brier Home, Vancouver’s Jewish nursing home, who has been asked by Manitoba Health to conduct a leadership review of the Simkin Centre as an outside consultant. Spigelman said Kafka was in Winnipeg just before the holidays and recently returned for a second visit.
“He will be releasing his report within the next few weeks,” Spigelman said.
“The Simkin Centre administration and board are treating this WRHA review as if it’s a win for them,” Berkal Sarbit said. “This shouldn’t be a matter of winning. It should be about what is best for the residents.”
Palansky wondered why there has been no public comment on the situation at the Simkin Centre from community leaders or rabbis.
“Many of the residents at the Simkin Centre are the people who built the synagogues and our community institutions,” she said. “They are being treated like they are disposable and can be easily forgotten.”
While neither Palansky nor Berkal Sarbit have close relatives now in the Simkin Centre, they said they’re continuing their efforts for the benefit of current and future residents.