COVID Second Wave in Long-Term Care Could be Worse than First

Last week, Ontario healthcare advocates, echoing sustained calls by nursing home negligence lawyers, told CBC News Toronto that “immediate emergency intervention with whatever resources are available” was necessary to prevent more COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities across the province.

More than 1,800 long-term care residents died in the first wave of COVID-19 infections in Ontario. When the first wave subsided last summer, health advocates, nursing home negligence lawyers, and government officials promised that lessons learned would help prevent such a disaster from reoccurring.

However, in less than two weeks between January 1 and January 12, nearly 200 residents and two staffers passed away from the virus. Modelling released by the provincial government in mid-January suggested that the second wave was on track to be more deadly than the first. One of the major complicating factors is a serious lack of staffing as workers become infected.

“There is no care without staffing. You need the staff to provide care. That’s the bottom line,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, to the CBC. “At this point, the levels have dropped to the lowest that anyone in the sector has ever seen. It’s an emergency. Immediately, we need emergency intervention.”

How is it possible that, after the first deadly wave of infections and deaths in Ontario’s long-term care facilities, the province would be so profoundly unprepared for a second wave? That question is at the centre of Will Davidson LLP’s $200 million lawsuit against Extendicare, one of the country’s most prominent nursing home operators. The suit has been launched in partnership with Thomson Rogers.

The lawsuit alleges that Extendicare failed to adequately or properly respond to the pandemic.

“The plaintiffs plead that the defendants behaved in a reprehensible and unconscionable manner by failing to implement an adequate COVID-19 response plan,” the statement of claim reads. “The defendants had a history of failing to implement properly, or at all, an adequate infection-control program.”

In a release issued by Will Davidson LLP and Thomson Rogers, the law firms spoke specifically about Tendercare Living Centre in Scarborough, Ontario, home to one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the province.

“The tragedy at Tendercare has resulted in an unspeakable number of deaths,” the statement reads. “The Ministry of Long-Term Care findings that Extendicare does not have consistent infection control practices and PPE are astounding. We have been in contact with dozens of families from Tendercare and other Extendicare homes and they deserve answers.”

It’s not just nursing home negligence lawyers who are issuing such allegations. In her discussion with CBC News, Natalie Mehra noted that some nursing home workers with direct access to infected patients are not equipped with N95 masks.

“Even some of the workers who are working directly with the COVID-positive residents have surgical masks and face shields, that’s it,” she said. “That’s the state of infection control in a number of these homes. The basic infection control measures that were supposed to be put in place in the first wave are not happening.”

As the situation in Ontario’s long-term care facilities continues to deteriorate, provincial and municipal governments are also facing legal exposure. A separate, $500 million class action lawsuit names, in addition to several care homes, the Province of Ontario and the cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, and Essex.

Despite the current, dire state of affairs, hope does appear to be on the horizon. The provincial government has promised to vaccinate all long-term care residents in hard-hit regions by Jan 21. Vaccinations are already complete in Windsor-Essex and are expected to be completed by January 18 in Toronto.

“We continue to do everything we can to help stop the spread of this virus and protect our most vulnerable, as well as the staff who have been working tirelessly to keep residents safe,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, in a provincial release. “While we rollout the vaccine as quickly as possible, we are also providing additional support to help homes detect any cases early so that the virus can be contained.”

While most health experts and nursing home negligence lawyers are hopeful that the vaccination program will end the second wave of COVID-19 infections in Ontario’s nursing homes, nothing about this pandemic has been predictable. If, for some reason, the vaccinations fail to curtail infections, there is no reason to believe that the province’s long-term care system will be prepared for a third or fourth wave of the virus.

And, even assuming that the vaccinations are successful, families of affected residents will be unable to regain the love and affection of their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and spouses. The goal of our class action lawsuits is to help deliver closure to those grieving families.

If you or a member of your family have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks at one of Ontario’s long-term care facilities, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

Image: Shutterstock

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