COVID-19 and Nursing Home Negligence

ambulance at night

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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