Burying a Legacy of Nurturing and Care – Goodbye Villa Charities

di Joe Volpe del 18 July 2020

Fifty dead in two of its Long-Term Care (LTC) homes (combined residents’ beds, 551) at Villa Colombo (Toronto and Vaughan), at least another at Caboto Terrace one of its Seniors’ residences. The Ontario government could no longer tolerate such deadly incompetence. On Friday, July 17, it ceased Villa Charities’ license to operate the Toronto LTC home (29 killed by the Covid-19) and handed management of the premises to the Humber River Hospital.

It is an ignominious end to dream that began with a truly community-driven vision to establish a Centre that would be an expression of inter-generational life whose epi-center would be Villa Colombo, a “piazza” from where would generate culture, ideas, “networks” and the “values of care”. But that was 1974.

Warts and all, through its first 25 years, Villa Charities served as a model for many other communities, including the Chinese. The latter’s Yee Hong LTC owns and operates four (4) homes with 705 beds. According to Ministry of Health, as of July 17, they registered zero deaths.

The two cultures share(d) a respect and deference for the elderly that motivated “the founders” to establish organizations so as to marshal public and private resources for collective – altruistic – goals, in which context one could also realize personal interests. Not-for-profit entities with “charitable” designation (the ability to issue tax receipts for donations) emerged, allowing them to accumulate considerable assets while providing a service.

Yesterday, Villa Charities’ LTC became one of only eleven entities, out of Ontario’s 654 LTCs, to be stripped of its operating license. In the Government’s daily press conference, the Minister for Long Term Care alluded to the organization’s inability (or unwillingness) to implement corrective measures designed to remedy a lethal environment – despite repeated cautions and warnings from Public Health and the Ministry.

“It is an embarrassing and sad day for our community”, said one former stalwart of the community. “It’s a dark day for all that we have worked to achieve”, said another, adding that “the board of governors should have immediately fired their senior staff and then resigned”. “Someone has to accept responsibility”, added yet another, “they all have betrayed the vision that characterized our community – they are like Lady Mac Beth”.

The facts point to an organization whose last five years have been marked by governance turmoil as it has shifted from public to private charity status. Federated partners like Mens Sana and Community Living separated amid legal wrangling involving close to $100 million. The Columbus Centre Day Care was seized, its license suspended temporarily (the resulting firings of individuals still a matter of litigation before the Courts) amid allegations of fraudulent practices and the employment of “unqualified” supervisory staff.

Ironically. The current CEO, Anthony Di Caita, is the former Vice President of Finance at Humber River Hospital. He left four and a half years ago when that hospital was in the middle of its own house-cleaning. No one can point to an Executive Search conducted to verify his bona fides for the job at Villa Charities. We called Mr. Di Caita for comment on Friday without response.

Villa Charities had commissioned Universal Care and Extendicare to manage the two LTCs. Extendicare is already facing [class-action] lawsuits for its management problems elsewhere. The Government’s decision will feed the public’s outrage towards Villa Charities’ Directors and staff. Both will be “lawyering up” for the inevitable Statements of Claim alleging breach of trust and duty of care.

There are, regrettably and sadly, fifty unnecessary, or untimely, deaths resulting from their decisions. Corriere extends sincere condolences to the families of the victims.

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