Ontario Launches Long-Term Care Investigation Amid COVID-19 Class Actions

As we have discussed before in this blog, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a uniquely devastating impact on the residents, family members of residents, and staff at Ontario’s long-term care facilities. More than 1,800 residents had died by the end of July, leaving health experts, personal injury lawyers, and government officials to ask, ‘What went wrong?’

The province intends to answer that question over the coming months. On July 29, it announced the launch of a three-person independent commission with a mandate to investigate and report on: the pre-COVID-19 state of Ontario’s long-term care system and its effect on the virus’s spread; the adequacy of measures taken by the province, long-term care homes, and other parties to prevent, isolate, and contain the spread; and all other relevant matters deemed necessary to the investigation by the Commissioners.

The Commission is made up of Associate Chief Justice Frank N. Marrocco, former senior executive of the Ontario Public Service Angela Coke, and former President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Dr. Jake Kitts. The group is able to compel individuals to produce evidence, can issue summons, and can hold public meetings. The province has requested its final report by April 2021.

“The people of Ontario deserve a timely, transparent and non-partisan investigation,” said Long-Term Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton in a provincial release. “That is why our government is launching this independent commission to help us identify ways to prevent the future spread of disease in Ontario’s long-term care homes. I look forward to receiving their report and recommendations to make Ontario’s long-term care homes a better place for our most vulnerable seniors to live and receive the care they deserve.”

Premier Doug Ford also commented: “As Premier, I made a commitment to our long-term care residents and their families that there would be accountability and justice in the broken system we inherited. Today, we are delivering on that promise by moving forward with a transparent, independent review of our long-term care system. We will do whatever it takes to ensure every senior in the province has a safe and comfortable place to call home.”

Despite the Premier’s call for accountability, critics say the commission’s investigation will fall “far short of a full public inquiry,” according to July 31 article by John Schofield in The Lawyer’s Daily. The provincial NDP and Green Party have both suggested that its mandate is too restrictive. In a statement, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said: “We need a full and evidence-based examination of how elders are cared for. We need to know whether for-profit homes can guarantee minimum standards of care.”

The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), an organization with significant frontline experience, also expressed reservations.

“We are disheartened that possible recommendations the commission makes will be non-binding, and that it will not be able to establish civil or criminal liability, said ONA president Vicki McKenna in a release. “However, ONA will step up and we expect to be allowed to share our experience and knowledge nonetheless.”

The need for “civil or criminal liability” is one of the reasons that Will Davidson LLP’s personal injury lawyers remain committed to pursuing class action claims against long-term care facilities affected by COVID-19. Another reason is the need for compensation for clients who have endured terrible hardships during the pandemic.  

On August 6, the Toronto Sun published a story about our class action lawsuit against Schlegel Villages, the operator of Erin Mills Lodge Long Term Care in Mississauga, Ontario. The paper spoke with Viet Do, one of our clients, whose father, Minh Do, died after contracting COVID-19 at the facility.

“I consider it my duty to my father to push for an investigation of this tragedy,” Viet Do said. “Those that are responsible for this state of affairs must take responsibility and be held accountable. That is the reason I decided to go forward with this action on behalf of all the residents of Erin Mills Lodge.”

Our statement of claim shows that Schlegel Villages failed to keep residents and staff at Erin Mills safe from the pandemic, and failed to follow the province’s health and safety guidelines. For that, we are seeking “compensatory damages for negligence, breach of contract and wrongful death in the amount of $10 million, punitive and exemplary or aggravated damages in the amount of $10 million or such other amount as may be proven at trial.”

As our Managing Partner Gary Will told the Sun, “This tragedy did not need to happen and should never be allowed to happen again in the future. The results of this gross incompetence were devastating to the residents as reflected in the fact that there were over 40 infections in the facility with only 86 beds.”

If you or a member of your family has been affected by a COVID-19 breakout at an Ontario long-term care facility, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a no-obligation consultation with our team of experienced personal injury lawyers. You may be eligible to join one of our class action lawsuits.

Image: Shutterstock

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