COVID-19 and Nursing Home Negligence

Long-term care facilities are ground zero in the fight against COVID-19 in Canada. Unfortunately, some facilities are losing the battle. As of mid-April, nearly half of all Canadian COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care residences. That figure has caused concern among healthcare experts, patients’ rights advocates, and nursing home negligence lawyers.

In Quebec, where more than 30 seniors perished between mid-March and mid-April in a facility near Montreal, Premier Francois Legault said the deaths may have been caused by “gross negligence.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also commented, saying: “We recognize the terrible and tragic stories that have come out of seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities across the country. We know we need to do more.”

The first serious outbreak occurred at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver in March. Seventy-eight COVID-19 cases were confirmed, and 20 people died. At least 21 people have died in a residence in Laval, Quebec. And in Ontario, 29 people have died at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, 33 have died at Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, and 23 have died at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said: “These heart-breaking events underscored the need for stringent infection prevention and control measures and led to the development of infection prevention and control guidance for long-term care homes.”

The provincial governments in Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia have taken over operation of certain homes. Ontario hasn’t gone that far, despite pleas from the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more 60,000 frontline healthcare workers. The union has criticized several facilities in Ontario where severe outbreaks have taken hold.

“They did not put into action what needed to be done,” said president Sharleen Stewart, according to the CBC. “This was pure negligence.”

In other words, despite the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 in Canada, and despite the fact that seniors are particularly susceptible to the disease, it is believed that certain COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes could have been avoided. Liability may extend beyond the facilities’ employees.

In Quebec, where nursing home negligence lawyers are already considering at least one class action claim, a medical malpractice lawyer told Global News that “it seems there has been serious neglect on the part of the residence, but also on the part of the CIUSSS, who was supposed to support the residence.”

In other words, these deaths may have been avoided but for the structural, systemic issues within Canada’s long-term care systems, many of which are underfunded and understaffed. The federal and provincial governments have issued a variety of new guidelines since March – new cleaning procedures, mandatory medical screenings, mealtime social distancing, etc. – but critics say they are too little, too late.

“This wasn’t just foreseeable, it was foreseen,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of seniors’ advocacy organization CanAge, to the CBC. “We saw it coming it Italy. We saw it coming in Spain, let alone what was happening in Asia. And we knew that people in long-term care facilities would be left without the care they need.”

“This is not new,” added Toronto geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall, a fellow at the Women’s College Research Institute. “It’s just taken a global pandemic to unearth the problems that affect almost every aspect of the sector.”

Some industry veterans are finding reasons for optimism amid the catastrophe.

“I think there will be change out of it because it is hitting so many people right across the province as well as the country,” said Tom Carrothers, a long-time volunteer with Family Council Network 4 Advocacy, also to the CBC. “I can guarantee you that groups like ours will be sure to keep it moving.”

However, there will be many more months of pain and distress before progress is made. On April 20, the Province of Ontario released new modelling suggesting the spread of COVID-19 had peaked in the general population but was continuing to accelerate in long-term care facilities. As healthcare workers fight to bring the disease under control, nursing home negligence lawyers will consider whether legal action is appropriate. Will Davidson LLP is currently investigating COVID-19-related deaths at Lundy Manor Retirement Residence in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Learn more about that case here: https://www.willdavidson.ca/lundy-manor-covid-19/.

If a member of your family has been injured or become ill as a result of negligence at a long-term care facility, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of nursing home negligence lawyers will review your case and explain your legal options.

Will Davidson LLP’s lawyers remain hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are we working diligently to advance existing claims, but we are also accepting new clients who have been injured during these unprecedented times. If you’ve been injured in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team is proud to offer services on a contingency basis, meaning we won’t be paid until your case has been successfully resolved. 

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Is Canada Falling Behind on Road Safety?

Serious car accidents continue to occur in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), despite restrictive physical distancing measures in place to arrest the spread of COVID-19. On March 30, one person was killed in a single vehicle accident at Toronto’s Exhibition Place; on April 3, another fatality occurred in a three-car crash near Islington and Steeles Avenues; and on April 4, a cyclist was struck and injured in the city’s Rexdale neighbourhood. For car accident lawyers, these events are a reminder that road safety reforms are urgently needed in Ontario, and that injury victims will continue to require legal assistance, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Before COVID-19 came to dominate headlines around the world (rightfully so), road safety issues were a major concern in several Canadian jurisdictions. Forty-two pedestrians were killed on the streets of Toronto in 2019, the same number as the previous year and the most since 50 people were killed in 2002. Fifteen motorists, six motorcyclists, and a cyclist were also killed.

In Ottawa, the deaths of three cyclists in 2019 attracted significant media attention and added urgency to the city’s new road safety plan. The picture is even grimmer in several remote and rural communities: drivers in Northern Ontario are nearly twice as likely to be killed in an accident as their neighbours in the south. In Yukon, the 2017 traffic fatality rate was 18.2 per 100,000, more than three times the then national rate of 5.0 per 100,000.

The news isn’t all bad, of course. Fatal traffic accidents have slowly declined over the past decades in Canada, as have rates of drunk driving. But road safety experts, including car accident lawyers, are concerned that the country is falling behind.

In 2019, the City of Oslo, Norway’s capital, recorded zero traffic deaths. It reached this milestone by enacting a series of sweeping infrastructure and policy changes, including reducing speed limits and improving demarcation between cycling and driving lanes. The policies are largely in line with Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy, which aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries by making safety central to infrastructure and transportation decisions.

Vision Zero has been adopted, often to great effect, by cities around the world, including some much closer to home, such as New York. In Canada, Vision Zero was first adopted by Edmonton, in 2015, and later by Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Hamilton, among others. Halifax and Ottawa have road safety strategies that embrace parts of Vision Zero without explicitly targeting zero deaths.

Unfortunately, many Canadian cities have struggled to reduce traffic deaths, and have particularly struggled to protect vulnerable road users. Critics believe a paradigm shift is necessary for these goals to be accomplished: decision makers must prioritize safety over efficiency and convenience.

In an expansive article for the Ottawa Citizen, Elizabeth Payne, the recipient of a traffic safety fellowship with the International Centre for Journalists, spoke with Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney about the city’s road safety shortcomings. While McKenney supports the many of the measures included in the city’s new road safety strategy, she believes it is inherently flawed by its failure to target zero deaths.

“The plan is a better plan than we have ever had in this city,” McKenney said. “But the key piece missing is Vision Zero. Without that, we are accepting that road deaths are normalized, that they’re OK. Without establishing a goal of zero, it means that we don’t acknowledge that every single death on our roadway is preventable. And every single death is preventable.”

As car accident lawyers, our team encounters seriously injured accident victims on a daily or weekly basis. We are acutely aware of the devastating, lifelong impacts that a serious motor vehicle accident injury can have. For us, the central tenets of the Vision Zero strategy – lower speed limits, improved safety infrastructure, respect for all road users – are common sense. But for people who have never been affected by a serious motor vehicle accident, these measures can appear costly, inefficient, and unwarranted. As a result, road safety improvements are often pushed to the political backburner, which leads to frustration among advocates.

“One of the things that frustrates me is that it doesn’t get the priority it needs,” road safety expert Neil Arason told Payne. “Every year, a couple of thousand people are killed on our roads and 10,000 to 15,000 people are seriously injured. We just accept it.”

“It’s not hard to see these traffic deaths are easily preventable. That is what is so frustrating,” added Graham Larkin, executive director of Vision Zero Canada. “Is [Vision Zero] doable in Canada? Yes, it is doable anywhere. The same principles apply. You often hear excuses made. We build excuses like the Dutch build infrastructure. They will just go ahead and fix things whereas we will tend too often to say, ‘Well, you know it can’t happen here.’”

There is no telling how long the COVID-19 pandemic will linger in Canada. Restrictions on movements could be eased as early as late spring, or could last into 2021. During this time, it is essential that Canadian road safety activists and their political allies continue to emphasize the importance of their mission. Fatal and serious traffic accidents continue to occur every day, even amid this largescale lockdown. The people injured in those accidents are as important today as they were before the pandemic.

If you or a member of your family have been injured in an accident, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team is accepting new clients during the COVID-19 lockdown and would be happy to discuss your case.

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