Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Seniors Languish In Intimidation

In our North American society we have a different view on how we treat our seniors. We claim our lives are busy and complex which would make it difficult to provide care for our ageing parents. As far as our parents go, don't they want their own independence? After all many drive their own vehicles well into their eighties, and no that's not the age of the vehicle but of the driver. Our governments provide pensions and free medical, and Shoppers Drug Mart has a monthly Seniors Day. Legislation exists that protects the rights of seniors, and seniors themselves have developed a powerful enough lobby group which wields some serious political clout, particularly during election time.

One might be led to believe that growing old isn't so bad, well aside from the slowing down, the creaks and cracks of the bones, etc. There is a point that a senior can reach where the allure of independence is taken out of the equation. Simple duties around the home become difficult and the loneliness of the independent daily routine becomes less bearable. Here and now the seniors' centre or residence comes to the rescue. Collectively our seniors can provide company to each other, the management of the residence provides ample care and assistance, in theory it is a climate for dignity and peace.

St. Catharines, Ontario found one man who had achieved a great deal in his life. This man came to Canada from Poland. He had endured the horrors of a world conflict that took not only lives but drained the spirit from the living. His spirit and desire to achieve something for himself and his family had not been beaten. He started a business with the help of a loan from a friend, and it grew with hard work and a will to achieve. Leo Skorski was recognised for his example of excellence with the Businessman of the Year Award in 1991, he was also awarded by the Polish Canadian Business and Professional Association, and the Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario Command Certificate of Appreciation from the Polish Veterans Branch. Leo Skorski is also a recipient of the Mayor's Award of Merit, given to him by Joseph L. McCaffery in 1993. The Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee Medals proudly hang on his wall, and in 2011 Dalton McGuinty gave Leo the Volunteer Service Award, and MPP Jim Bradley the Ontario's Volunteer Award.

Leo Skorski, founder of the Paderewski Society Home.
Leo Skorski has achieved a great deal. He built a business, made himself and his family comfortable, and he gave a great deal back to the community. Leo's greatest dream was to provide a centre where those who are aged could live out their lives in peace and dignity. That dream resulted in the building and birth of the Paderewski Society Home.

It took tenacity and perseverance to build the Paderewski Society Home, something Leo Skorski is not short of to this very day. Yet Leo's goal to provide dignity and peace to its residents has been hit with a nightmare. Instead of dignity fear has invaded the walls of the Paderewski, its residents exposed to intimidation and abuse. Within this intolerable climate of personal abuse of the residents, serious questions of possible misappropriation of monies has arisen. Though all of this falls on deaf ears. The same governments who praised Leo have now turned their backs on him.

The Paderewski Society Home is operated as a non-profit entity with a definitive set of By-Laws, and a Board of Directors elected annually. There are set policies relating to Conflict of Interest, Privacy of Information, Fraud Prevention, Purchasing and Tendering, and more. Its by-laws provide a clear guideline to the operation and management of the Home for the continuing benefit of all. Yet all those safeguards that have been put in place to create harmony and mutual respect have been disregarded and abused. Every attempt made by Leo Skorski to force an investigation into the situation at Paderewski has hit a stone wall.

Niagara Regional Housing subsidizes rents at the Paderewski Society Home to an annual amount reaching over a quarter of a million dollars. Under Ontario legislation it has the authority to intervene and investigate the allegations of both senior abuse and issues of potential fraud. The response from the NRH has been shocking, even after Leo Skorski enlisted the aide of a Queen's Council, Malte von Anrep of Lancaster, Brooks & Welch LLP.

No one at the NRH can claim to be unaware of the irregularities and questions raised by Leo Skorski on behalf of the residents of the Paderewski Society Home. As a past president of the Paderewski Society Home he was fully aware of procedures, he was fully aware of the legislation governing non-profit housing providers, and he was aware of the conflict of interest guidelines for non-profit housing providers. For this reason he raised his questions at the Board of Directors meeting, only to be ruled out of order. As the Board of Directors of the Paderewski Home refused to acknowledge Leo Skorski or his concerns, he took his questions to Lora Beckwith at the NRH.

At the centre of the questions brought to Lora Beckwith and the NRH was the issue of how the manager of the Paderewski Society Home, Stella Fensom, had raised the income of her husband and provided him a bonus without apparent approval of the Board of Directors. In addition to the questions surrounding the manager's husband, another apparent breach of the Conflict of Interest By-Law was identified. It appeared that the manager had arranged the installation of new carpeting in a number of units to be done by her son. These concerns were further reaffirmed in writing by Mr. von Anrep, Q.C. on behalf of Leo Skorski to Ms. Lora Beckwith at the NRH, October 29th 2009.

The Province of Ontario, pursuant to the Social Housing Reform Act 2000, has issued Ontario Regulation 339/01, which includes the government's rules relating to Conflict of Interest and other business practices. Niagara Regional Housing, acting as Service Manager for Niagara Region has issued an NRH Notice #09-12b which includes the local requirements relating to Conflict of Interest and other business practices.

Under Section 2.0, Definitions, Conflict of Interest means where: ii) a personal gain, benefit, advantage or privilege is directly or indirectly given to or received by a director, officer, agent or employee or a person related to any one of them as a result of a decision by the housing provider, and includes b) a director, officer, agent or employee or a person related to anyone of them receiving a direct gain, benefit, advantage or privilege from the housing provider as a result of the person's position within the housing provider.

Even for government language these rules as set out in the Ontario Regulation 339/01 are clear and precise. A husband and a son definitely qualify as “person related to” an employee of the “housing provider,” being the Paderewski Society Home, and the “employee” being the manager. As far as a breach of the Ontario regulation stands, the evidence appears to be straightforward requiring an investigation by the NRH.

Lora Beckwith, General Manager at Niagara Regional Housing, responded on October 26th 2009. In her letter to Malte von Anrep, QC, she states that “Our relationship is with the Board of Directors of Paderewski Society Home,” and also that, “The documents that Mr. Skorski provided did not support his allegation of financial irregularities.” According to Ms. Beckwith of the NRH, “As required by the Social Housing Reform Act 2000 (SHRA), NRH conducts regular operational reviews on social housing providers in Niagara. The last review of Paderewski Society Home was conducted in October 2008 and no financial irregularities were found.” Lora Beckwith's letter to Mr. Malte von Anrep was dated October 26th 2009!

A compromise was placed on the table by the NRH, that an investigation would be conducted by Lorraine Small regarding the specific allegations made by Leo Skorski and “if irregularities were found, she would discuss the results with the full Board of Directors.” Mr. von Anrep contacted the NRH in writing September 1st 2010 attaching signed statements, which he also provided to Regional Chairman Peter Partington. In this letter Mr. von Anrep states, “These statements refute the statement that the president and treasurer did their own investigation into the questions raised by Leo Skorski.” One of the statements was signed by the former treasurer Richard Kiermacz, and he says “I would like to state that during my time as treasurer, I did not participate in any investigation with the president.”

This was only the beginning in a situation that has taken life at a seniors centre from a peaceful existence to a nightmare of abuse and intimidation. Many of the residents at Paderewski Society Home are survivors of a world which saw the horrific side of humanity. These people survived the Nazi occupation, labour camps and the terror of war. Together they journeyed to a land where a simple reward was offered for their willingness to help build a nation, that reward was a life with dignity and peace. That no longer exists for them at the Paderewski Society Home.

Abuse reached a new level when a resident well past his eighties was verbally assaulted by the Vice President at the centre. Leo Skorski took a copy of a letter by J. Zelichowski, the elderly resident who was abused, to Mayor Brian McMullan on December 12th 2011. Mayor Brian McMullan had promised in a face-to-face meeting with Leo Skorski that he would speak to Regional Chairman Garry Burroughs. To Leo Mayor McMullan had said that he would not allow this abuse to continue. Prior to this plea for help delivered to Mayor McMullan, Greg Washuta, Councillor St. George's Ward, had copied to the Mayor a letter he had sent to Lora Beckwith of NRH dated March 2nd 2011. Regardless of the number of attempts to gain assistance from Mayor Brian McMullan no response was heard.

Leo Skorski decided to contact the Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, but as in any request presented to the Premier, Leo only received platitudes and advice on how to shift responsibility. Premier McGuinty advised that Leo should contact ORCA, the Ontario Retirement Communities Association. Leo did that, ORCA responded with advice that he should approach the Regional Housing Provider, “who is responsible for ensuring compliance by Social Housing Providers.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty did not make any mention of the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority nor of the complaint process available under the Retirement Homes Act 2010. Premier McGuinty did not refer this issue to the minister responsible for seniors, but only provided useless empty advice, and washed his hands of it all.

Ontario's Retirement Homes Act 2010, under section 67 clearly states that there is zero tolerance of any abuse or neglect of seniors. Under Section 67 of the Act, Protection against abuse and neglect, subsection (1) “Every licensee of a retirement home shall protect residents of the home from abuse by anyone.” Further in subsection (4) Policy to promote zero tolerance, it states “without in any way restricting to the generality of the duties described in subsections (1) and (2), the licensee shall ensure that there is a written policy to promote zero tolerance of abuse and neglect of residents and shall ensure that the policy is complied with.”

Under the Act, Sections 82 through to 88 deal with the issue of complaints of possible contraventions of any requirements of the Act. A Registrar had been established who would receive a complaint. The powers of the Registrar are set out in section 84, and he is responsible to act on any complaint received. None of this information was provided to Skorski, not by Premier McGuinty, nor by Mayor Brian McMullan, and definitely not by anyone from Niagara Regional Housing.

Abuse of the residents at the Paderewski Society Home has not subsided to this day. Residents live under a climate of threat of eviction if they complain about anything, only Leo Skorski stands strong enough to continue his fight and search for the truth. The NRH deals only with the Board of Directors, and the Directors deal only with the Manager.

As the abuse of the residents had not found an end, nor had the specter of possible financial irregularity subsided, Leo Skorski had made attempts to raise questions regarding two substantial amounts paid for work done at the Paderewski Society Home. The first payment was related to a fencing project, the Manager's Report of April 2011 relates to two installments paid to a company reported as Gale Force Fencing (although this could of been a simple error, as there is a company registered as Gale Force Contracting), totalling $20,000. This amount changes later to be reported as costing a total of $33,592. No explanation had been provided on the varying totals. Then privacy screens had been installed between balconies and a total of $12,810 paid to a Glen Paul for the work.

Wooden green lattice screens installed on individual balconies.
These privacy screens had apparently been installed by the manager's son, which is in breach of the by-laws of the Paderewski Society Home. In this case the by-laws prohibit the hiring of family members and would be considered a breach of the conflict of interest regulations as advised by the Social Housing Reform Act 2000, Ontario Regulation 339/01 and Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) Notice #09-12b.

In total 67 privacy screens had been installed, all made of a simple lattice sheet bought from Home Depot. The installation was done on each apartment balcony with the lattice screen attached to the metal rail already in place. A Statutory Declaration has been supplied by Zenon Iwinski who had been employed as the caretaker at the Paderewski Society Home. Mr. Iwinski affirms that as Caretaker he had installed 29 of the privacy screens himself and that it took approximately 10 minutes to install one. Of the remaining 67 screens, only 38 were installed by a Glen Paul, which if allowing Mr. Iwinski's estimate also took 10 minutes per screen, then this Glen Paul was paid the equivalent of $2,023.70 per hour.

Once again Leo Skorski made every possible attempt to find answers to alarming questions. Through his lawyer, Malte von Anrep QC, he contacted Niagara Regional Housing, who also sent all the details to an Inspector Joseph Garvey at the Niagara Regional Police Service. In addition to Leo Skorski's attempts, a member of the Board of Directors at the Paderewski Society Home, Adrezej Kyrcz also had sent a statement to the NRPS, to a Detective Spirity and copied the statement to Inspector Joseph Garvey. The response from the NRPS to Mr. von Anrep was that they could only investigate if the Board itself made the request, apparently a single Board member was not enough. On December 11th 2013 a Statutory Declaration was provided to both Niagara Regional Housing and copied to Inspector Joseph Garvey of the NRPS.

The Statutory Declaration is signed by Zenon Iwinski, the former caretaker of the Paderewski Society Home. Included with the statement is a hand written and signed statement by Zenon Iwinski regarding the circumstances surrounding the installation of the privacy screens.

How is it that the past caretaker Zenon Iwinski stated that the manager's son and he only installed the privacy wooden lattices. Mr. Zenon Iwinski also declares, under the threat of perjury, that he had “never encountered anyone named Glen Paul and can state positively no one by that name had anything to do with erecting the privacy screens (wooden lattices) at Paderewski Society Home.” Who is Glen Paul? How was he worth $2,000+ per hour for work no one saw him do?

Niagara Regional Housing does not see a need to divulge any information to Leo Skorski, even though he has the full trust of all the residents. Even though he was the sole force behind the foundation and building of the Paderewski, and even though he was a past president. Instead Niagara Regional Housing claims to deal only with the Board of Directors of the Paderewski Society Home.

On July 24th 2013 the Paderewski Society Home was to hold its annual meeting to elect a new
Board of Directors, and an Executive. Some 25 to 30 members of various Polish organisations came to the annual meeting as potential candidates for the election of the new board of directors. As per the By-Law of the Paderewski Society Home the current board, the whole board and executive, shall be retired at each annual meeting. To the shock of all who came to volunteer their time to serve as members of the Board of Directors, the current sitting President, Mrs. Glowacki informed all those in attendance that a new procedure had been put in place. The new procedure according to President Mrs. Glowacki, who in effect had been retired of her position at the start of the annual meeting, was that all individuals had to register by phone prior to the meeting to be entitled to attend. Yet a copy of the Agenda distributed prior to the meeting states as point #2 “Delegate's registration.”

As questions were raised of the outgoing President Glowacki, she refused to provide answers and cancelled the meeting. Later it was announced that the whole retired Board of Directors and Executive re-elected themselves. True democracy at work! Several written attempts to clarify this issue were made by Malte von Anrep QC, on behalf of those who cared for true democracy, and simple honesty at the Paderewski Society Home. A response dated September 4th 2013, signed by M. Fearnside, Manager Housing Programs, epitomizes the extent of accountability at Niagara Regional Housing.

Manager Housing Programs, M. Fearnside of Niagara Regional Housing stated, “The legal firm retained by the board has reviewed all documentation and concluded that all By-Laws concerning membership, notice, and the procedures taken by the Paderewski Board of Directors at the AGM were properly followed and are in accordance with the law. NRH and the Paderewski Board considers this matter to be closed.”

On August 28th the Board of Directors responded through their lawyers in a letter to Lorraine Small of NRH. As expected the letter had length though little substance in respect to answers. There is a reference made to paragraph 3 of the Amended By-Law #2 of May 26th 2010, though no mention of paragraph 6 of the same By-Law. It claims that the group of individuals who came to the meeting of July 24th 2013 were not members of the Corporation nor were they “Designated Representatives of any Canadian Polish organizations.” Yet a list of those who had arrived at the Annual General Meeting had past Board members, a past treasurer and past Superintendents. All were members of Polish-Canadian organisations, none were residents, and each provided their phone numbers for confirmation. Still all of these individuals were summarily dismissed and referred to as ineligible to vote or to be voted in as candidates. The Board and their lawyers, Martens Lingard LLP appear to have ignored those facts. The Agenda provided for the meeting seems rather clear in itself as to procedures that were expected to be followed, and the By-Laws with paragraph 3 and 6 clear enough.

A follow up letter from lawyers Martens Lingard was sent to Malte von Anrep QC, dated November 26th 2013. Once again lengthy rhetoric but one fact stands clear, the Board has threatened Leo Skorski to remain silent or face legal action. These lawyers claim that Leo Skorski abused his vote and his attendance at meetings. What Leo Skorski had done was simply raise questions and expected clear and concise answers. He has been labelled in effect a trouble maker. No one at Martens Lingard has explained the full facts surrounding the Annual General Meeting of July 24th 2013, nor have they explained any of the abuse or intimidation. Nor has anyone, either at Martens Lingard LLP or from the Board of Directors, or for that matter the manager Stella Fensom, explained in detail who is Glen Paul or how was he paid the sum of money that amounted to a rate of an apparent $2,000+ an hour.

The letter from Martins Lingard on behalf of the Board of Directors though is a threat in order to silence Leo Skorski. In addition to the threat it states that new By-Laws are being drafted for the Paderewski Society Home in keeping with legislation. These new by-laws are going to be “all encompassing, clear and easy to comprehend,” even though the current By-Law #2 appears to be quite clear and easy to comprehend.

Is there any surprise that a Glen Paul, whoever he is, was paid over $2,000 per hour to install wooden lattice screens, and no questions asked. Leo Skorski cannot stand by idle and watch his dream, his effort and honour become trashed and tarnished in such a manner. Leo Skorski will continue to fight for the truth and the dignity of those who trust him.

As a famous television FBI agent, Spooky Mulder, believed, “the truth is out there,” so does Leo Skorski. This is not the only questionable situation regarding the NRH, simply review the horror story of Bob Hansplant. Recently the NRH requested an increase in their funding by almost three quarters of a million dollars, so as to continue to provide such quality service and care.

Queen's Counsel, Malte von Anrep did finally receive a response from Niagara Regional Housing to the Statutory Declaration signed by Zenon Iwinski. On behalf of the NRH the response was signed by Shirley Cordiner, NRH Chair. In the short letter signed by Shirley Cordiner, it is the last sentence that blasts the credibility of NRH even further.

According to Shirley Cordiner, “The investigation concluded that there were no irregularities related to the fencing installed in 2011 by both Glen Paul and Gale Force Fencing.” First of all it was not claimed that Glen Paul had installed any fencing. The issue around 'Glen Paul' was as to who that person really was and how was it deemed credible to pay him over $2,000 an hour to install simple wooden lattice screens on balconies. It was brought to NRH's attention that the son of manager Stella Fensom had installed the simple wooden lattice screens, which was in breach of the Paderewski Society Home By-Laws in relation to conflict of interest and the hiring of family members. Who was Glen Paul? Shirley Cordiner, Chair of NRH for whatever reason omits all of the real questions or simply arrogantly ignores them.

As human beings we all accept the fact that errors are a part of daily routine. Still when we deal with professionals it is much harder to accept error as an excuse. A Chair of an organisation such as NRH is paid a high salary, all of it mind you public money, and making an error is unacceptable nor plausible. In relation to the “investigation” and its conclusions one has to ask, if an “investigation” was done, then who in fact conducted the “investigation”?

Shirley Cordiner, NRH Chair claims that there “were no irregularities to the fencing installed by ... Gale Force Fencing.” There is no company registered under the name of Gale Force Fencing, didn't Shirley Cordiner know this? It has been claimed that a bookkeeping error was made, though no one has explained how this was done or by who at the Paderewski. Gale Force Fencing does not exist, though there is a company called Gale Force Contracting, and they do fencing projects as their website proudly promotes.

An individual such as Shirley Cordiner, sitting in a chair paid with public money, as the NRH Chair has no permission to claim error in this. If NRH did conduct an investigation then Glen Paul would of been identified and explained. His ludicrous payment of over $2,000 an hour explained. An investigation by NRH would not use the name of a company which does not exist. Some explanation would be made as to who made the error and the correct information provided with a full detailed explanation.

All of this is simple logic in the real world, and could not escape the grasp of Shirley Cordiner, NRH Chair, unless there is another possible explanation for supposed 'error.' Did the investigation exist only in rhetoric and not in actual fact? Was it the Board of Directors and the Manager of the Paderewski Society Home who conducted this supposed investigation? The same Board who arrogantly re-elected themselves after they had been retired according to the By-Laws of the Paderewski? The same manager who has apparently hired family members to do jobs at the Home against the By-Laws of the Paderewski Society Home?

It is time for a full forensic audit of the affairs at the Paderewski Society Home, and if it is required for chairs at NRH to be vacated as a consequence, then so be it. Leo Skorski has brought forward the questions, and the residents who have given their lives and strength to build this nation not only deserve the answers, but demand the truth.

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