The last time Kathy Kaiser saw her mom in person was May 8 last year – just before Mother’s Day. Ms. Kaiser visited her at the Brentwood Care Centre in northwest Calgary, where the 87-year-old had moved just months earlier due to lingering health problems after a heart attack.
Ms. Kaiser stood outside as her mom, Lore Shymanski, looked down from a second-floor window, speaking on the phone. It was the closest they had been able to get to each other in two months. They were initially cut off by pandemic lockdowns; then, in April, the facility reported an outbreak.
Ms. Shymanski died of COVID-19 in hospital 12 days after that final visit.
“When my mom went into that facility, yes, she was 87, and yes, she had had a heart attack, but she was a vital, vibrant woman,” Ms. Kaiser said in an interview.
“She was able to take care of herself. And she went from that to being completely incapacitated. It was very frustrating to watch this really very fast decline.”
Ms. Kaiser has now filed a class action against the long-term care home and its owner, Intercare Corporate Group Inc., alleging the facility’s negligence contributed to an outbreak that eventually infected 87 residents and staff and killed 18.
The lawsuit, filed recently in the province’s Court of Queen’s Bench, is the latest in a series targeting long-term care homes, which account for the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths in Alberta and across the country. Ms. Kaiser’s class action is seeking damages of $25-million.
The statement of claim contains allegations that have not been tested in court. The company said in a brief statement that it had received the lawsuit but otherwise declined to comment on the case. The statement said the company would be responding as part of the court process.
The lawsuit blames low staffing levels, poor training and bad protocols for allowing the outbreak to take hold and spread. The suit alleges the Brentwood Care Centre also failed to provide sufficient personal protective equipment and did not prevent staff and contractors who were already infected or had been to other care homes from entering the facility.
The statement of claim also outlines Ms. Kaiser’s efforts to stay informed about her mother’s case as she tried to get her moved to the hospital. The first she heard that anything was amiss at the facility was when she learned, in early April, that her mother had been swabbed for a COVID-19 test. More than a week later, the care home told her a staff member on another floor had tested positive.
“It just scared the hell out of me,” she said. “I just felt like they were sitting ducks at that point. … My heart sunk.”
Ms. Shymanski had a severe cough and complained about being very tired while the pair talked on the phone that day, which Ms. Kaiser told the on-duty nurse about, the statement of claim says. She also asked if a doctor had seen her mother and if she had been tested again for COVID-19. A nurse told her Ms. Shymanski was last tested on May 2 or 3, the document says.
It was difficult to get information because no one was available for updates on weekends, the document says.
As her mother’s health deteriorated, Ms. Kaiser asked repeatedly to have her sent to the hospital but was told there was no reason to transfer her, according to the document. Meanwhile, Ms. Shymanski’s cough was worsening, she was slurring her words and sounded confused.
A nurse called Ms. Kaiser on May 17 and said her mother was not doing well and might need to be hospitalized. She was transferred later that day and died three days later.
Ms. Kaiser said she was able to speak to her mother over a video chat while she was in the hospital.
“That was beautiful,” she said. “She couldn’t talk and she was slurring her words, but she was touching our faces on the computer and crying.”
Ms. Kaiser’s lawyer, Clint Docken, said other people connected to the care home have expressed interest in joining the class action. He said he hopes lawsuits like this one will be a wake-up call for the industry.
“There are homes, or chains of care homes, that haven’t had any cases, so obviously they’re doing something right,” Mr. Docken said. “There were warning signs. … The red flags were all there, and they just weren’t heeded.”
Long-term care residents account for more than 60 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in Alberta, and there have been outbreaks at almost three-quarters of the province’s facilities – by far the highest rate in Canada – according to the National Institute on Ageing, a Ryerson University think tank. Nationally, the institute says, long-term care residents account for 69 per cent of all deaths, with 43 per cent of facilities reporting outbreaks.
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