Coronavirus: Families file class-action lawsuit against Altamont nursing home

The Altamont Care Community long-term care home is shown in Toronto on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Another Ontario nursing home has been hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging negligence over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged long-term care facilities.

The families of elderly residents who died after contacting COVID-19 at the Altamont Care Community filed a $20-million case against the facility on Monday.

The suit alleges the Scarborough, Ont., home failed to “implement a proper infection prevention and control program” in response to COVID-19 and did not train staff properly.

“They failed to hire sufficient or adequate staff to ensure the proper supervision of the residents of Altamont and to prevent and/or control situations of danger, including the outbreak of COVID-19,” it alleges.

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The case was filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on behalf of all residents of the Altamont home, which is owned by Sienna Senior Living Inc.

“We are aware of the proposed class action and are in the process of reviewing the details of the claim. We intend to respond in due course through the appropriate court processes,” Sienna spokesperson Natalie Gokchenian said in a statement.

“We want to assure the families of our residents that we are very well-equipped to continue to care for our residents throughout the pandemic. At this time, our focus is solely on the care and well-being of our residents and team members and we are working collaboratively with all partners to ensure that each of our long-term care homes meets and surpasses ministry standards.”

Vigour LP was also named as a defendant but could not be reached the comment.

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Altamont was one of five Ontario care homes where Canadian Armed Forces medical staff were deployed in April to help control COVID-19 outbreaks. More than 50 have died at the facility.

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A military report released last week said residents were not being properly fed and a “significant number” had pressure ulcers as a result of having been bedridden for a prolonged period.

“At time of arrival many of the residents had been bed bound for several weeks; No evidence of residents being moved to wheelchairs for part of day, repositioned in bed or washed properly,” it said.

One resident who was unable to speak wrote a “disturbing letter” alleging abuse and neglect by a support worker, and staff made degrading comments about residents, the military report alleged.

After receiving the report from the federal government, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province would take over the Altamont home as well as four other long-term care facilities.

“What’s significant about Altamont is that they had been cited repeatedly over the years by the ministry with respect to deficiencies in their infection control protocols,” said Stephen Birman, one of the lawyers who filed the case.

“It is alleged they knew they had an issue in this area even before the pandemic struck.”

According to the lawsuit, the home had been found non-compliant by provincial inspectors since 2015. The areas of non-compliance included infection prevention and control, the suit alleges.

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Vasuki Uttamalingan, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, is the daughter of a resident who contracted COVID-19 and died on April 21. Her mother also contracted COVID-19 but is now in recovery.

Another plaintiff, Pahirathan Pooranalingam, is the son of an Altamont resident who contracted COVID-19 and was transferred to hospital, where she died on April 25.

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“Vasuki and Pahirathan represent family members of the victims who have lost loved ones, without given the opportunity to say good-bye, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak at Altamont,” the Thomson Rogers law firm said in a statement.

The firm said that after Ontario declared a state of emergency on March 17, Altamont “failed to implement screening measures of its staff and basic social-distancing practices, including the separation of infected and non-infected residents.”

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“It is alleged that during this period, there was severe understaffing at Altamont and a failure to provide basic personal protective equipment to Altamont’s staff,” the statement added.

Markham-based Sienna Senior Living also owns the Camilla Care Community in Mississauga, which was similarly taken over by the province last week following at least 50 COVID-19 deaths.

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