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Orillia LTC home homicide 'could have been prevented:' family

'We feel that there needs to be accountability on behalf of the home,' says victim's stepdaughter, who says family is reeling after alleged assault led to death
Kevin Elmes, who died Nov. 24 after a physical altercation with another resident at Spencer House Orillia, is shown with his wife, Noreen, who died Oct. 20.

A local family, already reeling from the death of a loved one, is frustrated with the quality of care and level of staffing at an Orillia long-term care home following what police are calling a homicide.

On Nov. 13, Kevin Elmes, 88, was taken to Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital after being allegedly assaulted by a fellow resident of Spencer House Orillia. Elmes suffered complications from blunt-force trauma to the head, and he died Nov. 24.

Michelle Richardson, the stepdaughter of Elmes, says he was wandering around the west Orillia facility for one of his frequent walks when the incident occurred.

"From what I understand, another resident came out of the room, one that he would have known, and they seemed to have exchanged words," she explained, noting police told her this after watching video of the incident, for which there was no audio.

"From what we've been told, the man pulled him down to the ground and he landed face first on the hard surface."

Elmes was taken to hospital, where a CT scan revealed he was suffering from a brain bleed. A couple of days later, the bleeding had increased, but Richardson says doctors told the family Elmes's condition appeared to have been improving and didn't feel another CT scan was necessary.

Despite being unable to walk and feed himself, with his cognitive abilities "significantly" worse, it was decided by doctors that Elmes could be returned to Spencer House, said Richardson.

"We were skeptical that he was ready (to leave the hospital)," she said. "We were shocked when we heard that they were thinking of returning him to Spencer House because we didn't think he was anywhere near improved."

Doctors told Richardson they felt Spencer House would be able to care for him in the state he was in.

Upon Elmes's return to the home, Richardson and her family requested the resident who allegedly assaulted him be removed from the home or moved to a different floor. The requests were declined because Elmes was no longer ambulatory.

"Nothing was stopping the resident who assaulted him from being able to walk over to his side, which made us concerned for Kevin's safety if he returned to his same room," Richardson said. "They had given us no assurance that the other residents were safe."

Richardson's family decided to move Elmes back to the home, but to a different floor from where the incident occurred. They felt it was their only option.

Eleven hours later, Elmes died.

spencer house orillia
Spencer House, Orillia. File Photo

Richardson says she takes issue with the handling of the situation by Spencer House and the limited number of staff on shift to help provide care for residents.

"They failed to ensure the safety of residents as per the Long-Term Care Act," she said. "That is their obligation, and I think they failed miserably in this regard."

Before the incident that led to Elmes's death, Richardson says she had, on several occasions, complained to the facility's director of care about the level of care and lack of staff in the home.

"I've arrived at the home to find Kevin in his room, sitting in a chair naked in his own feces," she said. "I've found him in the dining room fully clothed, sitting in his own urine with his clothes all soiled, and nobody even noticed."

Not being able to find a personal support worker (PSW) at Spencer House was not uncommon, Richardson says. In some instances, she waited 20 to 30 minutes before somebody would respond to a call for assistance.

"There were times when only one PSW could be found on the floor," she said. "Of course, they would be tied up with other residents and would be nowhere to be found."

She says she was told by the director of care that Spencer House has been short-staffed because of COVID-19 outbreaks and blames what she calls "negligence" from the Ministry of Health.

"I do assume the staffing shortages are due to what the Ministry of Health governs," she said. "If they are responsible for the numbers that are on shift, then, obviously, they are misguided in thinking it's enough."

Richardson says the PSWs and nurses who work at the home are "fantastic," and the care they provide is "very good," but she calls the level of staffing unacceptable.

"I really believe that Kevin's death could have been prevented if they had staff available who was aware of any previous behaviours that showed any level of risk," she said.

Richardson recently issued a formal complaint to the Ministry of Health. She says an investigation has been launched. The OPP is also investigating the incident as a homicide.

"We feel that there needs to be accountability on behalf of the home," Richardson said. "Nobody is really taking ownership of this."

OrilliaMatters asked a series of specific questions about the incident and the level of staffing at the facility, but Nadia Daniell-Colarossi, the senior manager of media relations and communications for Sienna Senior Living, which operates Spencer House, said, due to privacy, the home is "unable to provide information about" specific people.

In an emailed statement, she said, "Spencer House has programs and protocols for residents who exhibit responsive behaviours to support their safety and well-being. The safety of our residents and team members is our highest priority, and we have taken steps to ensure they are being supported."

She said staff at the West Ridge Boulevard facility are co-operating with the investigation.

"The Spencer House community is saddened by the loss of one of our residents," she said. "We extend our deepest condolences to the family. As a result of the circumstances, we have been working with the police, and they have our full co-operation."

The OPP is remaining tight-lipped about what happened.

"The Criminal Investigation Branch is leading this investigation and will not release further details or confirm any further information at this time," said Sgt. Jason Folz, media relations co-ordinator for Central Region OPP.

Richardson says the family wants answers. Her stepdad, she says, was well loved and his loss is "tragic" for the entire family. Elmes had three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"When we saw the state he was in after the assault, he was not the same person in any way," she said. "He was almost a vegetable. That's no way for anybody to live."

Officials from the Ministry of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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