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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CBC report shows poor standard of care in Ontario nursing homes

Nursing home negligence is a serious issue in Ontario, one which is unlikely to subside as the province’s population ages. Last month, CBC’s Marketplace sent an undercover journalist into a Markham, Ontario long-term care facility to record and report on the conditions there. The investigation unveiled a staff struggling to cope with its patients’ needs.

Markhaven Home for Seniors houses approximately 96 residents and is in many respects a typical Ontario long-term care facility. The CBC reports that it ranks “in the middle of the pack when it comes to the number of critical incident reports it generates for issues such as abuse, medication errors and disease outbreak.”

The facility relies heavily on volunteers, including high school students; Marketplace’s reporter gained access by volunteering there.

The reporter discovered a litany of troubling conditions: residents waiting in long lineups to use the bathroom; residents waiting to have “soiled incontinence products” removed and changed; incidents of resident-against-resident violence; emotional needs being ignored in the rush to attend to urgent physical needs.

Staff at the facility was under extraordinary strain. Single workers are on some nights left to care for up to 25 residents. Many staff are forced to skip meals and breaks as they struggle to attend to their patients.

This environment led to substandard care for many residents. The CBC spoke with Marie Harris whose 84-year-old mother, Giovanna Conforti, died at Markhaven in May 2017. On the night she died, Conforti was placed in her bed around midnight, out of reach of her call bell which was used to summon nurses when she was in distress. Conforti’s care schedule dictated that she should be checked on every four hours, but she was left alone until 7am the next day. She passed away during the night, apparently as she struggled to reach her call bell.

Harris believes the province’s staffing guidelines are partly to blame for her mother’s death

“There should be legislation that has to have more people to take care of our loved ones,” she told the CBC. “More nursing staff, more [personal support workers, or PSWs] on the floor.”

Patient advocates and personal injury lawyers specializing in nursing home negligence agree. In Alberta, provincial guidelines dictate that long-term care patients should receive 1.9 hours of one-on-one care each day. In Manitoba that number is 3.6 hours. Ontario once had an “hours of direct care” guideline but removed it in 1996. Today, the only staffing guideline for long-term care facilities is that each must have a registered nurse on duty at all hours. By this standard, staffing at the Markhaven Home for Seniors meets provincial standards.

If you or a member of your family has received sub-par care at a long-term care facility or has been the victim of nursing home negligence, contact Will Davidson LLP to learn how we can help.

 

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