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Coronavirus: Critics say Bill 218 will shield Ontario long-term care homes from lawsuits

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WATCH ABOVE: The Ontario legislature has passed a bill giving COVID-19 liability protection to long-term care operators despite critics arguing this makes it significantly harder for families with loved ones in facilities to hold them responsible for any negligence. Miranda Anthistle reports – Nov 16, 2020

A controversial piece of legislation allowing for greater protection of Ontario long-term care providers when it comes to liability claims has passed at Queen’s Park.

Bill 218 had its third and final reading on Monday and was voted through. It will bar any COVID-19 exposure-related claim against a long-term care home if the provider made an “honest” or “good faith” effort to act in accordance with public health guidelines.

In response to the legislation, critics argued it will make it harder for families to hold long-term care providers responsible for illness or death related to exposure to COVID-19.

“It’s just not fair, not fair to families. We need to have answers and accountability,” said Jeff Shabes who lost his mother, Malvina “Visia” Shabes, to the virus on Nov. 10.

Read more: Doug Ford pledges increased testing in Ontario long-term care homes as deaths climb in facilities

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“My mom survived the holocaust, but couldn’t survive COVID and I’m convinced more could have been done.”

Jeff said his 91-year-old mother spent the last year of her life at 147 Elder St. He said the private, residential care home didn’t tell the family about his mother’s symptoms until it was too late. He also described being shocked during his last visit when he didn’t see anyone wearing any PPE. Global News contacted the facility for comment, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.

While Jeff said he’s not sure if his family will file a lawsuit, he added he doesn’t understand how Bill 218 could be passed when it leaves long-term care providers impervious to legal action.

Others voiced their concerns at a rally on the lawn of Queen’s Park before the vote went through.

Read more: Ontario promises new care standard in long-term care, to be implemented by 2024-2025

“We lost 2,000 senior citizens the first wave because of this neglect so if Bill 218 goes through, it’s free-range, they can continue doing exactly as they did through the first wave. So what did we learn? Nothing,” said Maureen McDermott, whose mother contracted COVID-19 at a long-term care home back in the spring and survived.

McDermott was joined by several others at the protest including the leader of the official opposition, Andrea Horwath.

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“Here we are in the second wave and the same thing is happening again… this government has done nothing since the first wave to prevent the deaths that are now coming in the second wave,” he said.

But Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, said the government has learned plenty from the first wave of the virus and is much better prepared this time around.

Read more: Absent funding details for long-term care standard in Ontario budget troubling, advocates say

“The data shows our homes are doing much, much better. Ninety-two per cent of our homes have not a single resident case right now,” she said.

“The vigilance, the surveillance for the majority of homes, this is working.”

However, advocates said they’re worried that Bill 218 will prevent families from being able to seek justice and hold long-term care homes responsible for negligence. The legislation will apply retroactively to March 17, 2020, which is when the province first enacted emergency measures.

Read more: Some Ontario long-term care homes can’t get insurance, could be forced to close: association

The Ontario Health Coalition reported it will be filing a formal complaint to the integrity commissioner about the bill, asking it to look into donations made to the Ford government. It also called for an investigation into any personal links between the government and the for-profit industry.

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“There are several people who have worked either on the campaign with helping to elect the Ford government or with the Ford government and are now out there lobbying for the long-term care industry,” said Duff Conacher, who is the co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“MPPs and ministers who are being lobbied by these people who helped government win power, they are in a conflict of interest that means they are required by law to step aside and not take part in this vote or any discussions or debates or any future votes on it.”

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