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No regulated response times for patient alarms at Ont. nursing homes

Cristina Howorun | posted Thursday, Jun 21st, 2018

It’s a jarring noise — a constant alarm sounding off — warning of a patient in distress.

It’s a sound that Nellie DeJong says she often hears when visiting her mother at Maple Manor Nursing Home in Tillsonburg, about a two-hour drive from Toronto.

“I actually had heard the alarms going and I timed it and it was 25-30 minutes before the alarm was answered,” DeJong said.

DeJong became so frustrated with the slow response time that she videotaped a walk through the halls of the long-term care home. The video, only thirty seconds long, shows no staff and very few residents in the halls while the alarm is sounding.

“I have grave concerns over my own mother’s personal care,” she said.

She also questions whether a quicker response to an alarm could’ve prevented a death there earlier this month.

“I absolutely believe that. I absolutely believe that. I believe it was a poor response time.”

Danny MacNeill, 69, died at the home after he allegedly became trapped in his bed rail.

His son, Kevin, wonders if a slow response time to his bedside alarm may have contributed to his father’s tragic death as well.

“Every time I was there it worked fine, when I helped him get up to get dressed it would go off. And just that day it went off and nobody got to him in a quick time. I mean, I don’t know exactly the time, they’re trying to figure it out. That’s a major factor,” Kevin tells CityNews.

Marlene Van Ham, the home’s administrator, declined to comment on the specifics of that incident, saying that it’s still under investigation.

CityNews repeatedly asked what the average response time or best practices were for responding to patient alarms, and she again declined comment.

According to regulations under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, every home is required to have a resident-to staff communication system that:

  • can be easily seen, accessed and used by residents, staff and visitors at all times;
  • is on at all times;
  • allows calls to be cancelled only at the point of activation;
  • is available at each bed, toilet, bath and shower location used by residents;
  • is available in every area accessible by residents;
  • clearly indicates when activated where the signal is coming from; and
  • in the case of a system that uses sound to alert staff, is properly calibrated so that the level of sound is audible to staff.


According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, “there is no requirement in the Long-Term Care Homes Act and Ontario Regulation 79/10 that specifies a standard time for a response to a patient alarm.”

“The Residents’ Bill of Rights as outlined in s.3(1) of the LTCHA, says no resident is to be neglected by the licensee or staff and has the right to be cared for in a manner consistent with his or her needs,” ministry spokesperson David Jensen told CityNews in an email.

“The ministry expects LTC home staff to respond to alerts/calls in a timely manner to ensure the care needs of the resident are met.

LTC homes would have their own internal policies and procedures on this matter.”

“That shocks me. It should be addressed immediately, You don’t know what’s happening, ” DeJong says.

“They could be choking, something could be going on and there’s nobody there. Somebody should be sitting with them at all times. And if there’s an alarm going off, they need to address that.”


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