Unlicensed care homes allowed to operate
Officials let Toronto sites stay open despite health concerns because residents have nowhere else to go, documents show
They are described as overcrowded, unsanitary and in “deplorable” condition, but unlicensed care homes in Toronto are being allowed to stay open, with provincial police and health officials turning a blind eye because there is nowhere else for the residents to go, the Star has learned.
Ontario Provincial Police conducted a seven-month investigation last year after receiving complaints about unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and a lack of qualified staff in homes offering live-in services to the elderly and people with mental health issues.
Investigators focused on two people operating unlicensed homes in Scarborough — though they said similar residences are a “systemic” issue across Ontario — and found that services advertised “are not actually being provided to the residents,” according to a letter obtained by the Star that was sent in December to an assistant deputy minister in the Health and Long-Term Care Ministry.
However, enforcing the law would mean displacing vulnerable people when there are no housing alternatives available, wrote Taylore Hald, commander of the OPP’s health fraud investigations unit.
“Therefore, it has been decided that the enforcement of this provincial act would not be a suitable action at this time.”
Section 95 (1) of the Long-Term Homes Care Act states that “no person shall operate residential premises for persons requiring nursing care or in which nursing care is provided to two or more unrelated persons except under the authority of a licence.”
Last September, police and ministry officials said a “consensus was reached” not to pursue charges. Another OPP document obtained by the Star said the Health Ministry “would need to have a strategy in place, if these unlicensed residences were closed down.”
The Star also reviewed a summary of the OPP investigation, which included interviews with dozens of people such as municipal licensing officers, nursing staff and community care workers, as well as Toronto police and Scarborough General Hospital representatives.
The investigation confirmed hospital and community groups were making referrals to unlicensed homes because no other “proper housing” was available.
“The alternative for these individuals is living in a shelter or on the street,” Hald’s letter states, adding the problem stems from the housing shortage in Greater Toronto.
OPP health fraud officers interviewed provincial offences officers employed by the city about a married couple, Winston Manning and Phyllis Jackson, operating homes in Scarborough.
They call their business Comfort Residential Group Home, and the company’s website describes it as “a support group home for teens, adults and seniors in the Scarborough area living with mental illness.”
“Caring staff members are on site 24/7 to assist with meal planning and preparation and support with medication compliance. Our residents can enjoy a home that is affordable, permanent and safe to experience a better quality of life,” the website says.
According to the OPP case summary, provincial offences officers who visited two Comfort homes last year found unsafe conditions caused by “illegal construction, medications (including narcotics) not properly stored; strong odour of human urine and feces, converted bedrooms with mattresses on the floor with multiple occupants per bedroom, mouse feces, deceased mice, unlicensed personal support workers, and inadequate food supply.”
The summary said officials remain concerned about residents after Toronto officials reported finding “deplorable conditions.”
Toronto Fire Services has laid 50 fire code charges against the pair, a city spokesperson said. Fire services also removed several occupants from the basement of a Comfort home after posting two immediate-threat-to-life notices.
Some charges are still before the courts.
Occupants either pay cash or turn over their social assistance cheques directly to Manning, the OPP summary said.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care alerted police to allegations about unlicensed Toronto homes in 2016.
The ministry also “engaged the Scarborough (General) Hospital to make them aware of the concerns and to ensure that no discharged patients seeking community living would be referred to these residences,” said spokesperson David Jensen.
In the report, police said that the Scarborough hospital was known to make referrals to the unlicensed homes. However, a hospital spokesperson said the policy is to provide a list of regulated homes, and leave it to the patient or caregiver to determine where to go.
However, in light of the investigation, it is now “reviewing how this is being implemented to ensure that it is being adhered to across all departments.”
In an interview last week, Manning said he was unaware of the police investigation but said the fact that it had concluded without additional charges proves he is doing nothing wrong.
“I’m here trying to help these people,” he said.
Manning said he is a personal support worker and Jackson a registered nurse who are both qualified to look after people. The couple said they are currently operating five homes, with between four and eight residents in each ranging in age from their 20s to 70s.
Manning said the money he collects from residents goes toward paying for the rent, food and upkeep of the homes and for part-time support staff.
“I’m struggling. I cannot pay my bills half the time,” he said.
He acknowledges that there might be “messes. You have dirt, but we do clean it.”
There were mice at one house, “but we called in pest control and got a cat.” He noted there are mice everywhere, “in kitchens, in restaurants, all over the town.” He pulled a bank statement from his pocket, pointing out grocery charges.
“I spend three to five hundred every week,” Manning said. “We are providing for them.” The OPP summary said a resident told a social worker that they were being fed food from a food bank. Manning denied they used a food bank.
Jackson took the Star on a tour of one of their homes on Rouge River Dr. in Scarborough, which had two fire department notices on the front doors.
A longtime resident in her 60s died there recently, though Manning is unclear about her cause of death. He insists she was well cared for.
“If I wasn’t giving her proper care, they took her away from me one time and took her somewhere else and she came back to us.”
The interior of the two-storey brick home was cluttered, but appeared clean. “Take a picture,” Jackson invited as she opened the door to an ensuite bathroom next to a bedroom with a man asleep on one of two single beds.
“I’m sure it’s far better than Seaton House,” she said, referring to the downtown men’s emergency shelter. Its scheduled closure this year has been delayed as Toronto struggles to house displaced residents and fund the George St. revitalization project. Another man gave a thumbs-up when asked how he was doing.
On the main level, two men sat watching a large-screen TV. Wet clothing was hanging on a line stretched across the backyard, and Manning was preparing noodle soup for lunch.
Sam Satgunarajh, 31, who said he suffers from schizophrenia, told the Star he feels well looked after at the home where he has lived for the past five months.
“There’s three meals provided per day. They take good care of you, do laundry,” he said.
Jackson dismissed the unflattering assessment in the OPP investigative summary as “propaganda” and complained of harassment by city and fire officials. The patients are getting the care they need, she said.
Residents are served three meals, their medication is administered, and “we . . . take them to their clinics, if there is ongoing health issues,” she said.
Home care workers also provide assistance, but when they’re not available, “we make sure (residents) have clean clothes on and hair care and whatever is necessary,” she said. “It’s hard work.” The provincial Health Ministry says it is “addressing the wider issue of both supportive and affordable housing across the province,” with $45 million over three years for 1,150 units for vulnerable patients, and other investments.
But NDP health critic France Gélinas, who says unlicensed homes are also an issue in her northern Nickel Belt riding, said very little change has happened in the long-term care sector since the Liberals took power, and patients are still discharged with few options unless they can afford pricey retirement homes.
“This is Ontario,” she said. “If somebody needs care, they should be getting care.”
For Jackson, the care she and Manning provide fills a void in the community.
“If you let these people out on the street, it’s cruel,” Jackson said. “They would be panhandling, wiping windshields to . . . buy a hamburger. They’d have nowhere to sleep.”
Manning acknowledged they’re not providing Cadillac care. He lives in the basement at Rouge River Dr. with his cousin, who fills in when Manning is elsewhere.
“I’m trying my best,” he said. “All we need is help from the government or say, ‘Go ahead and do your thing and we’ll work with you and monitor you. We’ll help you develop something that is vital to these people.’ Let us work and look after these people, but also work with us. They’re working against us.”
Winston Manning and Phyllis Jackson run Comfort Residential Group Homes, an unlicensed care residence, out of this Scarborough house.
Manning insists that a woman in her 60s who died at the home was well cared for.