As Mike McCarroll was leaving the hospital after what would turn out to be his final visit to his 95-year-old mother, a nurse stopped to give him the bad news.
His mother, Ruby McCarroll, had just tested positive for COVID-19.
That word from a hospital nurse was how Mr. McCarroll first learned that his mother’s retirement home southwest of Hamilton was the site of a coronavirus outbreak that would go on to be one of the worst in Canada.
“I had no communication from them,” Mr. McCarroll said of his mother’s retirement home. “None at all.”
Mr. McCarroll is now the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against Responsive Group Inc., the private, for-profit company that owns several seniors’ homes ravaged by the coronavrius, including Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville, Ont., where Mrs. McCarroll lived before her death March 30.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, is the latest legal action to be brought against the owners of some of the worst-hit nursing and retirement facilities in the country – places that account for a disproportionate share of the coronavirus deaths in Canada.
The lawsuit has not yet been certified as a class action, and its allegations involving six seniors’ facilities have not been tested in court.
Nicola Major, a spokeswoman for Responsive Group, said in a statement that the company “recognizes the rights of individuals to advance their concerns through litigation,” and that it would respond to the lawsuit, “in due course.”
In Quebec, a separate class-action suit was filed last week against a long-term care home where 77 residents have died of COVID-19. The lawsuit against the Sainte-Dorothée facility in Laval, a suburb north of Montreal, claims that three employees who showed symptoms were compelled to report to work. All three later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
In Ontario, two unions representing front-line workers at a handful of Ontario long-term care homes won separate cases last week, forcing the owners to do more to protect personal support workers and nurses from the coronavirus.
Anson Place, a combined retirement and nursing home where 27 residents have died of COVID-19 as of Sunday, was named in both unions’ actions, as was Eatonville Care Centre, a Toronto home where at least 38 have died as a result of the virus. Both are operated by Rykka Care Centres, a sister company of Responsive Group.
On Friday, the Ontario Labour Relations Board ordered three homes – Anson Place, Eatonville and Altamont Care Community, a Toronto home owned by Sienna Senior Living – to take more steps to shield workers from the virus, including separating sick residents from the well, and requiring all staff and visitors to wear appropriate protective equipment.
The board also ordered a Ministry of Labour inspector to visit the homes in person and conduct weekly inspections with written reports, according to SEIU Healthcare, the union that sought the emergency measures at the board.
“We were getting nothing from these homes," said Sharleen Stewart, the president of SEIU Healthcare. “This order has opened all of that up and directed these employers to give us information.”
On Thursday, an Ontario court ordered Eatonville, Anson and a third Responsive Group-owned home, Hawthorne Place Care Centre in Toronto, to provide nurses with access to N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment, saying it is up to health care workers – not management – to decide when such protections are necessary.
Hawthorne reported 13 COVID-19 deaths as of Sunday.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association went to court seeking an order compelling the homes to comply with provincial infection control and health and safety standards.
In documents filed in court, the association accused the homes of keeping residents sickened with COVID-19 among the healthy, causing the virus to spread and of “severely” limiting staff members’ access to proper protective equipment, including N95 respirator masks.
Ottawa is sending military aid to five hard-hit seniors’ homes in Ontario, including Eatonville and Hawthorne, in response to Premier Doug Ford’s request for help from the Canadian Forces.
The other three homes are Altamont Care Community, Orchard Villa Retirement Residence in Pickering, and Grace Manor in Brampton.
Pinta Maguire, head of the medical malpractice group for Tyr LLP, the Toronto law firm behind the proposed class-action lawsuit in Ontario, said Mr. McCarroll and others like him want answers from homes that were supposed to protect their loved ones.
“These families want these companies to be held accountable,” Ms. Maguire said. “And more importantly, they want to make sure that this never happens again.”
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha
The Globe and Mail
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