Montreal

Superior Court authorizes $500M class action lawsuit against Quebec's long-term care homes

The Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients, a patients rights group, has won the right to sue the provincial government over what it calls degrading and deteriorating living conditions in the CHSLD network. 

Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients won right to sue over deteriorating CHSLD conditions

The lead plaintiff in the class action suit against the Quebec government is Daniel Pilote, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and has lived in a CHSLD in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu for four years. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec Superior Court judge has authorized a $500-million class action lawsuit against the provincial government for what a patients' rights group calls the "shameful" treatment of residents in provincially funded long-term care homes.

The Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients applied for the right to sue the province in July 2018, citing 22 examples of what it claims to be degrading and deteriorating living conditions in the network of Centres d'hébergement et de soins de longue durée (CHSLDs).

Justice Donald Bisson's approval means the class action suit can proceed, but the allegations must be proven in court — a process which could take several years. 

The lawsuit alleges systemic neglect and mistreatment of patients in CHSLDs. 

The Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients is asking for compensatory damages of $250 to $750 per resident, as well as exemplary damages of $100 per person for each month spent in a CHSLD. 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs estimate the class action affects 34,000 people in long-term care in the province since July 9, 2015, and they estimate if their suit is successful, the total compensation could reach could be at least $500 million. 

'Mistreatment ... medical errors'

The lead plaintiff is Daniel Pilote, who is 57 and suffers from muscular dystrophy. He has lived in CHSLD Champagnat in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu for four years. 

He has some movement of his head but is otherwise paralyzed and dependent on a breathing apparatus to stay alive.

Pilote says he is going to court in a bid to improve living conditions in long-term care and to get justice for himself and others.

"We see situations of mistreatment, cases that aren't responded to in time, incontinence that is left unattended and medical errors," Pilote said. 

At this CHSLD in Drummondville, a pilot project is underway using volunteers to help take care of residents due to chronic staff shortages. (Radio-Canada)

He alleges that his attendants are overworked and that his CHSLD suffers from an absenteeism rate of 20 per cent.

Pilote says he does not receive the level of care necessary for his condition. He says his inert body is handled too quickly and improperly; he is not washed at an acceptable frequency; he is regularly the victim of medical errors, and he lives in a constant state of anxiety, worried that inexperienced staff do not know what to do with his breathing equipment in the event of an emergency.

The provincial government attempted to quash the class action suit, arguing that the lead plaintiff's argument about the living environment was difficult to define. That request was rejected by the judge.

"Applicants act in good faith for the sole purpose of obtaining justice for themselves and their group members," Bisson said.

In 2018, the Quebec ombudsman criticized the management of CHSLDs, accusing the government of reducing basic services such as hygiene to the point that pressure ulcers have become an endemic problem.

Quebec announced last Friday its intention to set up a committee of experts to develop a policy on long-term care, although it has not gone as far as Ontario, which has a law in place regulating provincial long-term care institutions.

With files from Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne

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