WARNING: This story contains some graphic images.
Residents of a privately run residential care facility in London, Ont., say the 722 Hamilton Rd, home is overrun with bed bugs and cockroaches, and they want the owners to provide better cleaning and more care.
Ricky Williams, 44, moved to Bruce Residence in December last year after undergoing heart surgery in London.
“I got bit so many times. I had sores all over my body,” he said. “There was blood all over my sheets, all over my pillow. If you move your dresser or something, you’ll see like 30 cockroaches scatter.”
Williams said cleaning staff aren’t moving quickly enough. He shared a photo with CBC News of feces spread over a bathroom floor and said it stayed that way for three days.
Another resident, Bob Campbell, 73, also shared his concerns.
“I threw a black toque on the floor and went to lunch,” said Campbell, who has lived at the group home for 15 months. “When I came back, the black toque was covered in bedbugs.
“You couldn’t even tell it was black anymore. It was copper tone.”
CBC London reached out to Bruce Residence to get more information on the facility.
A spokesperson, chief operating officer Joe Todd, said it is regulated through the City of London and currently has 47 residents in 49 units.
He said all the residents need a little extra help with their day-to-day living, although they live largely independently. Many of them were once homeless and nearly all of them are on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or receiving Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits, Todd said.
Sometimes that money goes directly to the facility, and in other cases, the residents receive it first and then pay their rent.
“Right now, it’s mixed, but going forward we’re going to be implementing a system where we receive” those government benefits directly, he said, expressing concerns some of the residents use that money to buy drugs and don’t pay the rent.
Todd said Ethan Eswaran bought the property on Hamilton Road three years ago and runs three other similar residential facilities in Strathroy, St. Thomas and Mount Brydges.
Todd said Eswaran would not be available to comment.
“We inherited a lot of these problems,” he said about the bug and cleaning concerns at the London facility. “These kinds of problems in these types of homes do take time to rectify. We are in the process.”
So how bad are bed bugs? It depends on the room, said Todd. “Some rooms are worse than others, but we have professionals that are handling the situation.”
Todd took over managing the London facility a week ago. So far, he’s hired a new cleaning company and is implementing a new, strict “bed bug and head lice buffer” protocol, he said.
I got bit so many times. I had sores all over my body. There was blood all over my sheets, all over my pillow.– Ricky Williams, resident
“When they come to the home, they have to have new clothes,” said Todd. If they don’t have any, staff will give them a fresh set of clothes and run their old ones in a dryer for 20 minutes.
That kills bed bugs, said Todd.
Then they’ll check everyone’s hair for bugs and their belongings will be quarantined in a shed for 48 hours, he said.
Morgan Lobzun, a spokesperson for the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), said “the Health Protection and Promotion Act requires sanitary facilities, potable water and food safety compliance for meals. MLHU has been involved in responding to reports of health hazards [at Bruce Residence] and as a partner agency within the Vulnerable Occupancy Protocol.”
CBC London also reached out to the city for comment on the complaints.
“In June, this residence was brought to the attention of the Vulnerable Occupant Protocol (VOP) group, which includes staff in bylaw, social services, and other municipal and provincial partners — and a multiple agency inspection was conducted,” Patti McKague of the city manager’s office said in an email. “Both the London Fire Department and City of London bylaw inspected the property. In August, the city did not have any remaining active complaints at this property. However, the Fire Department does have an outstanding inspection order, and they are following up for compliance.”
The email also said residents with ongoing issues “should notify their landlord. If the issues continue, we encourage them to then file a complaint with the city, and staff will follow up, based on the nature of the complaint.”
McKague’s email said the city doesn’t offer a program to provide funding to private operators.
“Residents who live there, depending on their circumstances, may be eligible for supports and services including rental assistance offered by a variety of community organizations, including those funded by the city. That information would be confidential, however, and the city would not have access to all information about each resident and the supports they do or do not receive.”
Long list of concerns
But the bugs aren’t the only problem, said a worker CBC News agreed not to name, as the person feared they would lose their job for speaking out.
Bacterial infections are running rampant too, they said, and pointed to the many residents who have cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that causes skin redness, swelling and pain.
“It’s an infection in the leg and it’s contagious. It’s just unsafe in there.”
Things have become worse since the new owners took over, the worker said.
“It’s sad because there’s elderly people, there’s mentally ill people, there’s people that are on drugs in there. People are beating up the elderly people.
“There’s not one set person handing out medications, they’re not getting them on time, and then residents are being sent to the hospital because they’re not getting their medication,” the worker said.
According to both Williams and the worker, the meal program consists of items like spaghetti and perogies — anything that is cheap to make, said Williams.
“We only get supper and two snacks a day. And we’re supposed to live off that,” said Williams. “We’re allowed only 250 millilitres of juice or milk and we can’t ask for seconds.”
As well, the owners are paring down breakfast.
“We’ve switched to a more continental breakfast so we can eliminate the amount of staff that are in the morning,” said Todd. Right now, most residents pay $950 a month to live there, but some pay $777, and that’s not enough to cover all the bills.
Todd said the facility’s financial shortfall is about $200 per resident. The owners have been asking the city for help, but so far their request has been denied, he said.
“We have some people who donate,” said Todd, who admitted Bruce Residence is a for-profit company. “We can all do our part to help these people because they are vulnerable.”