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Class action to be launched against Ontario alleging negligence in long-term care oversight

Families desperate for changes to long-term care after COVID-19 outbreaks
WATCH: The Ontario ombudsman has launched a formal investigation into long-term care following the findings of the Canadian military in that province.

A Toronto-based law firm says it has notified the province of Ontario that it’s launching a class-action lawsuit on behalf of long-term care residents that will allege the province was negligent in its overseeing of nursing homes.

The lawsuit will allege that the province’s failures in overseeing nursing homes have resulted in “widespread and avoidable illness, suffering and loss of life” during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the firm said on its website.

READ MORE: Military teams raise concerns about conditions at Ontario care homes

The claim will also allege the province breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“For too long, the elderly and invalid have been ignored in this province,” Kirk Baert, a partner at Koskie Minsky LLP, said in a statement on the firm’s website.

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“Now that it is faced with a health crisis, Ontario’s failures are on full display. It is the most vulnerable members of society, and their families, who are facing the consequences.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Global News reached out to Koskie Minsky LLP for more information but was told the firm wasn’t in a position to comment further at this time.

“Once the statement of claim is filed, we will have more to say,” Baert said in an email.

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

In an email to Global News, an Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care (MLTC) spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on the class-action notice specifically since the matter is subject to litigation, however they indicated a number of steps the province has taken to combat COVID-19 in nursing homes.

“Since Day 1 of this pandemic, we have acted aggressively to implement increasingly stringent measures to protect residents and staff at long-term care homes across the province,” MLTC spokesperson Gillian Sloggett said in an emailed statement.

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“This extends to and well beyond issuing four emergency orders, introducing amended regulations and announcing $243 million in emergency funding for staffing, supplies and capacity.”

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Sloggett also said the province is addressing staffing needs through its online portal that matches workers with available jobs at long-term care homes and that Ontario hospitals are deploying “rapid response” teams of health-care professionals to at-risk nursing homes.

“On April 25, we amended an emergency order to allow health service providers, including hospitals, to temporarily reassign front-line staff to provide services and supports in long-term care homes,” the spokesperson said.

“We have conducted testing of all long-term care residents and staff, with a second round of testing underway.”

Sloggett said Canadian Armed Forces teams are working with long-term care facilities and that personal protective equipment needs are being met, with same-day deliveries in place.

“We are launching an independent commission in July to determine the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care homes in Ontario,” Sloggett said.

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“The challenges long-term homes have faced during this pandemic are not unique to Ontario, yet we are the first jurisdiction in North America to voluntarily and proactively launch this kind of review.”

The MLTC spokesperson said “every option is on the table” to improve the province’s long-term care system.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Ontario long-term care head warns of ‘real urgency’ ahead of 2nd wave

Long-term care homes have been at the forefront of the novel coronavirus crisis in Ontario and across the country.

Of all Ontario‘s coronavirus-related deaths, 64.3 per cent have been among nursing home residents. Of the province’s 31,544 COVID-19 cases, 16.8 per cent involve long-term care residents.

Last month, the Canadian military released a troubling report that included observations of five Ontario long-term care homes that troops were sent to amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Allegations in the military report included a “blatant disregard” for infection control measures, patient neglect and abuse, cockroach infestations and rotten food.

The long-term care homes named in the report are Orchard Villa in Pickering, Altamont Care Community, Eatonville Care Centre and Hawthorne Place in Toronto, as well as Holland Christian Homes’ Grace Manor in Brampton.

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Global News previously reviewed past inspection reports of the five long-term care facilities and found that many concerns raised by Canadian Forces members were similar to conditions that were reported at the homes months before the novel coronavirus pandemic started.

READ MORE: Inspection reports found mouse feces, neglect, abuse at Ontario long-term care homes before COVID-19

At the time the military report was released, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said it took the military going into the homes and reporting what they observed before he realized how bad things were.

He’s also said inspectors refused to go into long-term care homes in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because they feared for their safety, which prompted the government to call in the military. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union refuted Ford’s statement, saying long-term care ministry managers told workers not to enter the province’s nursing homes.

When the Ontario government received the military report, it launched an investigation into its findings. Ontario’s patient ombudsman is also investigating experiences at long-term care homes with coronavirus outbreaks.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, several class-action lawsuits have been filed against long-term care homes and operators in Ontario, including Altamont Care Community, owned by Sienna Senior Living, as well as Revera Inc.

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— With files from Global News’ Brian Hill, Mercedes Stephenson, Stewart Bell, Andrew Russell and the Canadian Press