Alberta's health minister orders reviews after mice found biting patient's face

EDMONTON – Alberta’s health minister has ordered an investigation into a complaint that mice were found nibbling on the face of a dementia patient at a long-term care home.

Fred Horne said Tuesday the probe will be conducted under the Protection for Persons in Care Act, along with a review into whether health standards were breached at the Lethbridge facility.

“I’m extremely angry about this,” he told reporters outside his office. “This is completely unacceptable. It’s intolerable in this province or any other province, and we will get to the bottom of it.”

A health-care advocacy group has alleged that staff at St. Therese Villa found mice on the face of the patient on Sept. 1. The woman has disabilities and would not have been able to move the rodents away.

Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said a nest of mice was later found in the woman’s closet. She has been given medication to prevent infection and is also suffering emotionally.

Azocar said staff at the care home first complained about mice a year ago and they have also been fighting a bed bug infestation.

The 200-bed facility is operated by Covenant Health, a Catholic health-care organization. Its vice-president, Shelley Murphy, has acknowledged that St. Therese Villa has had mice problems in the past but said audits ensure standards are met and all of its buildings are kept clean.

Horne said he’s concerned to hear that concerns of St. Therese staff may not have been heard by management.

“My hope is that by ordering this investigation it will make it clear to everyone that we want the information, that people are free to tell their story, that they actually be encouraged to bring their concerns forward.”

Horne doesn’t know how long the two reviews will take but said the results of both will be made public. As well, Alberta Health Services workers are monitoring operations at St. Therese Villa pending the results.

Horne added that George VanderBurg, associate minister of seniors, will start touring various care homes across the province this fall, meeting with staff and families about their concerns and suggestions about improving the health system.

Kerry Towle, seniors critic with the Opposition Wildrose, said the government needs to do more and should appoint an independent seniors advocate.

Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth called the incident shocking.

“No one should have to think that their personal safety and security is at risk when they go into care at a long-term care facility in our province,” she said in a news release. “Quite frankly, it’s disgusting and we hope that the province and the facility start giving Albertans some answers immediately.”