Fired Sienna nursing home exec alleges rampant resident abuse; company rejects suit

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Physical and sexual abuse of residents was rampant at one of Ontario’s major nursing-home chains, and senior managers were at times drunk on the job, a fired company executive alleges in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

In his untested claim against Sienna Senior Living, Chris Leedham alleges he was terminated after he raised concerns about the mistreatment of residents.

Leedham, 52, who is seeking $575,000 in various damages, says the situation, compounded by mounting criticism of his performance, took a huge toll on his mental health.

“Sienna chose to actively ignore Mr. Leedham’s calls for help, going so far as to tell him to ‘stop bringing these issues up,'” the suit alleges. “Sienna terminated Mr. Leedham’s employment in whole or in part because he raised concerns.”

Sienna, which operates 37 homes in Ontario and had one of the highest nursing-home death rates from COVID-19, has yet to file a statement of defence. However, it denied the allegations and said it would vigorously contest the lawsuit.

“Sienna takes any concern brought forward from team members, residents and families very seriously,” said spokeswoman Nadia Daniell-Colarossi.

“While out of respect for privacy we generally do not discuss issues about former employees, we must make it clear that Mr. Leedham’s claims are unsubstantiated and made in the context of a wrongful dismissal claim.”

Leedham began working for Sienna as a vice-president in August 2019. His primary duty was the recruitment and retention of staff.

He says he received “glowing feedback” and even a merit increase on Jan. 1, 2020, but his situation deteriorated, particularly after COVID-19 struck.

Among other things, he claims Sienna failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment to staff. The company, he alleges, allowed staff who tested positive for COVID-19 to keep working, and failed to separate infected residents from the uninfected.

On one occasion in March last year, he alleges, the entire management team at one Sienna home was drunk.

Last fall, amid the second wave of the pandemic, Leedham claims top executives ordered staff cuts to ensure Sienna would meet its financial objectives.

“Resident abuse is entrenched in the culture; it’s a low-cost culture,” Leedham alleged in an interview.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of reported cases of resident abuse during my time there. Verbal, physical and sexual abuse is just rampant.”

Sienna, which also operates retirement and long-term care facilities in British Columbia, said Leedham’s claims leave the impression “they are inserted solely to shock and embarrass.”

A company motion to strike Leedham’s “scandalous” allegations is to be heard in Superior Court in August.

Leedham was fired Nov. 30 — he was earning a base salary of $193,800 — just hours after he says he submitted a doctor’s note suggesting he take a medical leave.

The publicly traded company has been previously named in a proposed class action that targets several long-term providers for their pandemic response.

Last June, it cut ties with an executive vice-president, who had referred to relatives of infected residents as litigious and blood-sucking. Its CEO resigned days later.

In all, COVID-19 killed more than 300 people living in Sienna homes.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Leedham said.

The province took over three of the facilities, including Altamont Care Community in Toronto, which the military named in a report for inadequate care and feeding of residents due to staff shortages.

Its Woodbridge Vista Care Community in Woodbridge, Ont., came under ministry investigation after a resident reportedly died last year of exhaustion due to malnutrition.

The province also took over Sienna’s Camilla Care Centre in Mississauga, Ont., last spring after the COVID-19 deaths of at least 61 residents.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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