Lawyers behind a proposed class-action lawsuit against Retirement Concepts and other named defendants based on allegations of neglect, mistreatment and abuse of seniors say it will include residents and family members of Summerland Seniors Village in its class proceedings.
Earlier this week, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) announced it was temporarily appointing an administrator to take over the day-to-day operations of the privately owned long-term care facility in the South Okanagan because it wasn’t meeting the legislated standard of care.
Summerland Seniors Village is the fourth Retirement Concepts facility in B.C. to be placed under government management in the past six months.
Outside administrators have been appointed to run the company’s other care homes in Nanaimo, Comox and Victoria.
B.C. health authorities are now running 31 per cent of the company’s publicly funded beds in B.C., according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.
It’s the largest chain of for-profit care homes in the province.
Lawyers are preparing a class-action lawsuit against Retirement Concepts and Cedar Tree Investment Canada Inc., which is a subsidiary of the former Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group.
Anbang purchased Retirement Concepts in 2017. The proposed class action also names PR Seniors Housing Management, now known as West Coast Seniors Housing Management, which operates the care facilities owned by Retirement Concepts, as well as the B.C. government.
The lead plaintiffs are Erin Huebner and Krista Kilvery of Victoria, B.C., whose mother, Blondine Huebner, resided at Waverly Seniors Village in Chilliwack in 2017.
“This class action concerns systemic neglect, mistreatment and abuse of senior citizens who live in retirement facilities operated by the defendants,” says the notice of civil claim.
Blondine Huebner was a Ukrainian immigrant to Canada who suffered a series of strokes that left her with vascular dementia, the suit says.
She was moved to the Retirement Concepts-owned facility in the Fraser Valley, where she allegedly experienced neglect and abuse.
The suit, which has not been proven in court, alleges staff failed to intervene after Huebner was the target of bullying by another resident, failed to follow a physician’s order regarding administration of medication, physically restrained her and failed to properly take care of her, resulting in the senior spending a night in soiled sheets and a room that “smelled of urine.”
Patrick Dudding, whose law firm Acheson Sweeney Foley Sahota LLP is spearheading the legal proceedings, said the firm has received 20 sworn affidavits from family members of residents whose loved ones have experienced similar incidents involving inadequate care at facilities owned by Retirement Concepts, as well as five from current/former employees.
“You have an extremely vulnerable and frail, by definition, group of people, senior citizens, who are living in these facilities and are entirely under the power and at the mercy of these care homes that they rely on for literally everything in their day-to-day lives,” he told Global News on Saturday.
“It’s one of those cases where individual actions would be enormously expensive and difficult to litigate, and this is a wide-spread problem. Coming together as a class proceeding allows residents and their families a way to get justice,” he said.
Dudding said the action covers all of the Retirement Concepts facilities in B.C., including the Summerland Seniors Village.
“To those family members and residents, we urge you to reach out to us if you’ve got something to say about the treatment that you’ve had in the facility. We note that it’s one of the facilities that has had documented issues in the past, so the recent takeover is unfortunately not anything new,” he said.
Dudding said the claim’s primary objective is to achieve lasting, permanent change in these facilities, across the province, to stop abuse and neglect in for-profit care facilities in the future.
The proposed class-action lawsuit was filed in 2018 and has not yet been certified.
Justice Catherine Murray has been assigned to case manage the litigation.
B.C. government lawyers submitted its response last September, denying the Ministry of Health is legally liable for the issues raised in the suit.
The Ministry of the Attorney General wrote that the retirement home defendants are corporations that are “not owned or controlled by the province” and are overseen by health authorities.
“The province does not have any role in the day to day operations of the retirement home defendants or the regional health boards that regulate them. The province is not liable for any negligent acts/omissions (if any) of the retirement home defendants and/or regional health boards,” it says in its response.
The government also suggests if the plaintiffs suffered injuries, loss or damage — all of which it denies — it was caused by the negligence of the plaintiffs.
Examples include failing to inspect the facility, failing to take notes of potential hazards in the facility, failing to inquire as to the suitability of the facility, failing to inquire as to the training and experience or competence of the staff, failing to check references, and failing to review written medical references, among other missteps.
Retirement Concepts and the ownership entity, Cedar Tree Investment Canada Inc., have not yet filed responses.
Earlier this week, the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) blamed the problems at the Summerland facility on a chronic staffing shortage caused by low wages.
Dix said he will hold the company responsible, calling the recent developments concerning and unacceptable. He said he will meet with the holding company and its administrators “as soon as possible.”