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Coronavirus: Families allege neglect at Pickering, Ont. care home where 70 died, call for police investigation

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Families of residents at a Pickering long-term care home that has been hard-hit by a coronavirus outbreak are requesting a criminal investigation into the handling of the virus at the facility amid allegations of neglect.

Seventy residents at Orchard Villa who were infected with COVID-19 have died and it marks the highest publicly confirmed death toll at an Ontario long-term care home, according to data from the ministry of long term care.

The letter, addressed to Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin, is from “family members of residents or former residents (now deceased)” of Orchard Villa.

Forty-one individuals were listed on the letter.

READ MORE: Ontario to hold independent commission into long-term care home system

“All of us, and our loved ones, have first-hand information concerning the conditions in this home prior to, and during, this pandemic,” the letter read.

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“We are also aware of inspection reports detailing a long list of serious issues in this home prior to the pandemic, which were clearly exacerbated by it.”

When asked about the letter, Jason Gay, the executive director of Orchard Villa said he had not yet seen it.

“But first and foremost, we offer our sincere condolences to all families who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 in long-term care,” Gay said in an email.

He said the home has been “quick to call” on others for help when needed, but added that combatting the virus has been an “immense challenge.”

“We take our duty of care for the people in our home incredibly seriously,” Gay said.

“We understand the trust our residents’ families place in us to take care of their loved ones, and we take it to heart.”

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Attached to the letter from the Orchard Villa families was a list of allegations of neglect, malnourishment, and failure to follow infection protocols at the home, which is managed by Southbridge Care Homes.

A staff member escorts members of the Canadian Armed Forces in to Orchard Villa Care home, in Pickering, Ont. on Saturday, April 25, 2020.
A staff member escorts members of the Canadian Armed Forces in to Orchard Villa Care home, in Pickering, Ont. on Saturday, April 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

“What has occurred at Orchard Villa is completely out of proportion to what has occurred in other facilities in this province,” the allegations read.

The families said they believe in some cases their relatives “did not receive the necessities of life” and said they believe the actual death toll due to the virus may be higher than 70.

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The families also said the home refused assistance from Lakeridge Health, an acute care provider in Durham Region.

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On April 21, Durham Region’s medical officer of health issued an order making Lakeridge Health lead “monitoring, investigating and responding to the outbreak” at Orchard Villa.

The order called for management at the home to enhance screening and infection prevention measures.

“Lakeridge was told the home was fine by the administration while they knew, or ought to have known, what staff were reporting (major staff shortages and illnesses and residents in dire straits, and no personal protective equipment),” the allegations read.

The military was sent into the home for further assistance on April 25.

The families also alleged that areas throughout the home were not properly disinfected and residents continued to use the congregate dining room and gathered in the lobby with those who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Father David Sherry crosses himself as he offers a blessing and absolution to a COVID-19 positive resident, identified as Flora, at Orchard Villa Care home, in Pickering, Ont. on Saturday, April 25, 2020.
Father David Sherry crosses himself as he offers a blessing and absolution to a COVID-19 positive resident, identified as Flora, at Orchard Villa Care home, in Pickering, Ont. on Saturday, April 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

“Those residents who were not positive had not been removed from rooms with COVID positive residents prior to Lakeridge’s involvement, and therefore cross-contamination was occurring,” the allegations read.

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On May 9, Long-Term Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton tweeted about a possible privacy breach regarding “individual resident personal health info” at Orchard Villa. The home confirmed the matter was being looked into, but no further information was provided.

Furthermore, outside of the issue concerning COVID-19, families inquired about an alleged incident in 2015 in which a resident was found in a “pool of blood” after an unwitnessed fall and subsequently did not receive adequate medical care.

READ MORE: Possible privacy breach at Pickering long-term care home hard-hit by coronavirus

The letter called on the Durham Regional Police Service to launch a criminal investigation into the home with the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin told Global News on Wednesday that they have received and reviewed the allegations.

“We will be reaching out to the appropriate agencies and oversight bodies to determine the best and most appropriate way to proceed in order to address these concerns,” he said in a statement.

However, an OPP spokesperson told Global News the home is not in its jurisdiction.

Global News reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Long-term Care for comment on the allegations but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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Pickering officials said in a statement that any investigation into what transpired at Orchard Villa should be transparent. Earlier this month, Pickering city council unanimously passed a motion calling on the provincial and federal governments to investigate what happened at the home.

“We are asking the senior levels of government to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into what has transpired at Orchard Villa and across the nation,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Ashe said.

Gay, meanwhile, said, “We will continue to work with all of our partners in government, health care and our wider community to serve the best interest and health of the people in our home.”

On Tuesday, Fullerton announced that the government will be launching an independent commission into the province’s long-term care system.