Long-Term Care Residents and Their Families Continue to Face Challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has eased in Ontario, with daily case counts and COVID-related deaths plateauing far below the highs seen during the spring. And yet, as our nursing home negligence lawyers know, the impacts of the pandemic’s brutal first three waves are still being felt, especially by the friends and family members of the long-term care residents who died between March 2020 and June 2021.

It’s no secret that residents of long-term care homes in Canada were uniquely impacted by the pandemic. Indeed, a report released in March 2021 by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found that long-term care residents accounted for 69 per cent of all COVID deaths in Canada; the international average was just 41 per cent. In Ontario alone, nearly 4,000 long-term care residents died.

To go along with the mental and emotional scars left by the outbreaks, family members of long-term care residents are now facing legal hurdles as they fight for compensation and acknowledgment from the home operators that failed their loved ones. The nursing home negligence lawyers at Will Davidson LLP were among the first in Ontario to initiate legal action against long-term care homes that failed to provide adequate protection to residents. (You can learn more about each of the class action proceedings on our ‘Class Action Lawyer’ page.) While we remain confident in the eventual success of each of these claims, the Government of Ontario has not made our jobs any easier.

In November 2020, Queen’s Park passed Bill 218: Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act. The bill states that, retroactive from March 17, 2020, businesses cannot be sued for damages arising from exposure to or contraction of COVID-19.

It is undisputable, from a legal perspective, that long-term care homes owe their residents a standard of care. Prior to Bill 218, plaintiffs seeking compensation from a long-term care operator would need to prove only that the operator in question had breached that standard by not taking reasonable actions as judged against the actions of another operator in a similar situation. Now that Bill 218 has been approved, plaintiffs must establish that the operator’s actions were grossly negligent.

“In November 2020, the provincial government passed an act that limits COVID-19 liability or provides COVID-19 liability protection,” one Ontario personal injury lawyer said in a Law Times article. “What the families of residents in these homes saw shocked them, and they feel the corporate operators should be held accountable – but the new legislation raises the bar.”

The allegations brought against Ontario’s negligent long-term care operators – including that they failed to develop or implement effective virus containment strategies; that they failed to prevent overcrowding; that they failed to effectively separate infected and non-infected residents; that they failed to adequately staff their facilities, and that staff were poorly trained.

The government established a Long-Term Care Commission to study the infections and deaths in Long-Term Care Homes and note recommendations to prevent future catastrophes. The Commission’s Final Report dated April 30, 2021 is a devastating indictment on the incompetence of the Ontario government and the Long-Term Care industry in Ontario. Fortunately, it makes a number of important recommendations to ensure that the industry is prepared for a future pandemic.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 outbreaks continue to occur in Ontario’s long-term care homes. Last month, the Village of Tansley Woods in Burlington lost its fifth resident amid an outbreak affecting 31 people, including 25 residents and two staff. The vast majority of residents were already vaccinated, and most suffered only minor symptoms. But COVID-19 – particularly the extra-transmissible delta variant – remains a dangerous virus for people with health vulnerabilities.

“We can say those who did experience serious symptoms did have serious underlying health conditions prior to the outbreak,” announced the home’s operator, Schlegel Villages, in an update. “The majority of those affected have experienced nothing more than minor symptoms.”

Contact Will Davidson LLP

Wil Davidson LLP’s class action and nursing home negligence lawyers have been helping families of long-term care residents understand their legal options throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the coronavirus began circling in Ontario, our team had a long history of representing victims of long-term care negligence throughout the province. If you or a member of your family has been injured in a long-term care setting, contact us today to learn how we can help.

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