Innis Ingram says that at one point during the COVID-19 pandemic, his mother, a resident of a Mississauga, Ont., long-term care home, wasn’t bathed for six weeks.
His 78-year-old mom, Kathryn Robertson, lives at Camilla Care Community long-term care home.
Her meals and medication were often delivered late. Her diet’s quality was also a concern, Ingram said. One day, Kathryn’s lunch was a cold, uncooked hot dog.
Ingram is one of the plaintiffs in a recently launched proposed $600 million class action lawsuit against almost 100 Ontario long-term care homes, which alleges they were negligent in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ingram made headlines after he chained himself to a tree outside Camilla Care in the spring. He was demanding to speak to an inspector and someone from the management team at Trillium Health Partners, which assumed temporary management of Camilla Care at the end of May.
The home has seen 68 resident deaths during the pandemic. Kathryn didn’t contract COVID-19, but is high-risk because she has pulmonary fibrosis.
“Somehow she managed to avoid it, but the quality of care that she’s received through the pandemic has just been atrocious,” Ingram told HuffPost Canada.
A spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living, which owns Camilla Care, declined to comment when asked about Ingram’s allegations.
Ingram said he feels an obligation to represent the hundreds of families who have reached out to him over the course of the pandemic. He said he’s heard shared concerns about loved ones in long-term care experiencing weight loss, having bed sores for weeks and homes being short-staffed.
‘Appalling’ events during pandemic: lawyer
“We’re seeing right across the board, across all 96 homes [in the lawsuit], virtually repeated stories and descriptions of extreme overcrowding [and] homes that were under-resourced where you had lack of staff,” Joel Rochon, co-lead counsel on the class action and managing partner at Rochon Genova LLP, told HuffPost.
The proposed class action has nine representative plaintiffs. Rochon also said the firm has received hundreds of calls about the lawsuit, so the number of plaintiffs could grow.
As of Tuesday, 1,845 residents and eight staff members have died from COVID-19 in Ontario, according to the province’s data.
“It was truly appalling what went on during COVID and to hear about the deplorable conditions in these homes,” Rochon said. “But it’s also important to remember that these conditions have existed in these homes for years.”
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The lawsuit names Sienna Senior Living Inc. and the City of Toronto as representative defendants, representing the owners and operators of the 96 long-term care homes listed.
The government of Ontario will be added as a defendant soon, according to Rochon.
“We are aware of the proposed class action. We intend to respond in due course through the appropriate court processes,” a spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living told HuffPost by email.
A spokesperson for the City of Toronto said they can’t comment at this time.
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care said the ministry cannot comment as the matter is subject to litigation.
Lawsuit alleges negligence, Charter breach
A report from the Canadian Armed Forces, who were deployed to several Ontario long-term care homes during the pandemic, found insect infestations at some homes, staff not following infection control practices and not properly isolating COVID-19 positive residents, and patients with fungal infections and pressure wounds.
The five homes named in the report are all included in the lawsuit.
The statement of claim argues the Ontario government and the province’s long-term care homes “failed to act promptly” given early red flags about the harmful nature of the virus and that the elderly would be at especially high risk of experiencing complications or dying from it, based on the experiences of other countries like China and Italy.
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The class action claims $500 million in general damages and $100 million in punitive damages, and that:
The long-term care operators were negligent in exposing resident class members “to an unreasonable risk of contracting COVID-19”;
The defendants breached their fiduciary duties;
The defendants violated resident class members’ rights to life and security of the person under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by “their adoption of delayed, arbitrary, ad hoc, and grossly inadequate measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Over the course of the pandemic several other lawsuits have been filed against Ontario long-term care homes and their owners.
Rochon said this class action might be one of the only ones, if not the only one, that is an action both against long-term care facilities and the provincial government.
“Rather than kind of cherry picking individual homes or groups of homes where there were very serious outbreaks, we took an approach that would be more comprehensive and provide access to justice to more individuals who suffered tremendous losses,” he said.
Rochon said he hopes to move through the process quickly.
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“These families have been through a lot,” he said. “The last thing they need is to have a long, extensive court battle.”
Ingram said he doesn’t think actions like Ontario’s commission into long-term care — due out by April 2021 – will provide the immediate changes families are hoping to see.
The lawsuit “really provides an opportunity to get justice province-wide,” he said. “It impacts thousands of Ontarians. This really does provide a pathway to that justice that my family seeks … and that pretty much all the other families I’ve spoken to are really seeking.”
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