Police say they are investigating reports that door handles were removed from the suites of residents at a retirement home in Courtice, Ont., amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officers in Durham Region said the incident took place at White Cliffe Terrace Retirement Residence, and said someone came forward with information about the matter to police.

CP24 and CTV News Toronto have obtained a copy of a letter that Verve Senior Living, the company that runs the home, sent to families of residents on Feb. 10.

In the letter, the company wrote that “a small” number of door handles were removed within the assisted living household, where some of the home's most vulnerable residents live.

“It was a violation of our protocols and practices. As soon as we became aware of the incident, all resident's door handles were immediately reinstalled,” David Bird, president and CEO of Verve Senior Living, wrote in the letter.

“The general manager was immediately placed on leave as soon as we learned of the incident … There is absolutely no excuse to remove door handles – ever. We never lock in or prevent the free movement of our residents." 

White Cliffe

Bird stated that a senior team member at the residence is now conducting a review of all operations and supporting residents and staff members.

He said that no residents were harmed as a result of the door handles being removed, and investigators are trying to learn how long the doors were left that way.

CP24 has reached out to Verve Senior Living but has not yet received a response.

The Ontario Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility issued a statement about the matter on Saturday morning.

"This kind of action is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The home placed its general manager on leave as soon as they learned of the incident,” the ministry said.

“We have reached out to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA) to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted."

The RHRA said it conducted an inspection of the home on Feb. 4 following a report from an individual who suspected residents at the facility were at risk of harm. The results of the report, once completed, will be published online.

“At this time, the RHRA believes that residents do not face additional risk of harm. If at any time this changes, we will not hesitate to act immediately,” the agency said in a statement on Saturday.

“The RHRA will continue to work with the licensee to ensure that this conduct does not occur again, and will collaborate with our community partners as needed to ensure all residents remain safe.”

"While we cannot speculate on what enforcement action may entail, the RHRA has a number of tools at its disposal including administrative monetary penalties, orders and conditions."

Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos, who is an associate professor at Ontario Tech University and a seniors' rights advocate, said she was left aghast at the news, and believes the underlying issue was related to understaffing.

"You were actively locking in residents when they're sick with COVID and I think that's the most upsetting part," she told CP24 on Saturday.

"Management claims that nobody was harmed in the process of unlawfully trapping residents in their rooms and in the most egregious way possible. How could [they] say that?"

Stamatopoulos said that more information is needed on how long these seniors were trapped in their rooms, and if any passed away from COVID-19 while trapped.

"I just can't even fathom that this happened," she said.