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Class action lawsuit against Quebec long-term care facilities approved

People living in long-term facilities say they want justice.
People living in long-term facilities say they want justice. Kathleen Finlay / Getting Images

A class action lawsuit against Quebec’s long-term care facilities (CHSLD) for allegations of poor living conditions for residents was given the green light Monday by Justice Donald Bisson with the Superior Court.

The lawsuit alleges that people living in the centres are not receiving the care and services to which they are entitled. The allegations must be proven before a judge at trial.

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The amount of compensation could reach a few hundred million dollars, calculated Conseil pour la protection des malades, who filed the request for collective action in 2018 against the government of Quebec and 22 CISSS and CIUSSS centres operating long-term care homes throughout the province.

It claims compensatory damages and punitive damages for all residents of the CHSLD since July 9, 2015, as well as the reimbursement of amounts paid to obtain certain services.

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The main complainant, Daniel Pilote, has been living in a CHSLD since 2014. Paralyzed from the neck down, he relies on a breathing apparatus to live.

He said he wants to improve living conditions and obtain justice for himself and for others.

Pilote alleges, in particular, that his CHSLD attendants are overworked, which has an impact on the quality of care he receives.

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He argues that he does not get the necessary care for his condition and his body is handled too quickly and improperly, such as “by placing him too quickly in his wheelchair and hitting him.”

Pilote notes he is not properly washed and claims to be the victim of medical errors, such as that his medication is often poorly managed, leaving him with anxiety that inexperienced staff won’t know what to do with his breathing equipment in the event of an emergency.

The mucus that accumulates in his trachea is not removed in a timely manner, which hampers his breathing, he alleges.

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He also said there is sometimes only one nurse at night left to take care of 111 residents, some of whom have complex medical conditions and require regular care.

In his judgment, Bisson authorized the claim for compensatory damages to proceed, but not for punitive damages or the reimbursement of amounts paid for certain services.

The Conseil pour la protection des malades estimates that there are more than 35,000 Quebecers living in long-term care facilities.

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The class action is claiming up to $750 for every month of residence in a CHSLD and $100 per month in exemplary damages.

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The lawsuit’s approval is “encouraging,” noted Paul Brunet, spokesperson for the Conseil pour la protection des malades. However, he said he fears there may be an appeal.

“We want those who have suffered these abuses, these attacks on their rights to safety, security, dignity, to be compensated.

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“It is not because one is in a CHSLD that the laws of Quebec no longer apply when you have been harmed. ”

He said he wants to see a law that would set a standard for how long-term care homes must carry out their activities.

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“This is not how you should treat people,” he said, adding that a shortage of staff is not an excuse.

Brunet said he hopes the Quebec government will use part of its budget surplus to compensate the victims of this “mess” so it does not drag on in the courts for years.