Ste. Anne's Hospital veterans seek leave to sue Quebec for decline in health services

A 95-year-old veteran has filed a lawsuit application on behalf of the 166 veterans who live at the St. Anne's Hospital on Montreal's West Island. Court documents allege heatlh care services have deteriorated since the province took over the hospital from Veterans Affairs.

Wolf Solkin, 95, says he almost died from an infection after hospital started changing catheters less often

A 95-year-old veteran has filed a lawsuit application on behalf of the 166 veterans who live at the St. Anne's Hospital on the West Island. The court documents allege services at the hospital have deteriorated since the province began running it. (Google Streetview)

Before the responsibility for Ste. Anne's Hospital was transferred from the federal to provincial government, the hospital's long-term patients say it ran like a well-oiled machine.

Ste. Anne's, located in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in Montreal's West Island, was one of the last veterans hospitals still operated by Veterans Affairs Canada and was renowned for its high level of care.

In April 2016, when the hospital was folded into the regional health authority for the West Island, everything changed, says veteran Wolf Solkin.

Solkin, 95, has filed a lawsuit application on behalf of the 166 veterans who live at the hospital.

When the hospital was taken over by the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, about 40 per cent of the staff quit, according to the lawsuit application.

The court documents allege services at the hospital have deteriorated ever since.

'Putting the lives of veterans in danger'

"The scope, quality and quantity of services to the veterans have declined to the point of outright neglect, putting the lives of the veterans in danger," the application contends.

Solkin told CBC News that he developed a severe infection and nearly died after the hospital began replacing catheters every three months instead of monthly.

There is now only one head nurse for every three floors, instead of one on every floor, Solkin said.

He said the hospital regularly hires temporary workers from private companies because of staffing shortages, but the temporary workers are often poorly trained. One didn't know how to operate his wheelchair, he said.  

"My major concern is not me. I can speak up for myself; I can fight for myself; I can count my medication," Solkin said. He said he's named as the lead plaintiff because other veterans and their families are worried about reprisals if they go public with their concerns.

'I have to speak up for these guys'

"Perception is what counts. It is what you fear that is most important, so I have to speak up for these guys," Solkin said. "Somebody does."

Laurent Kanemy, one of the lawyers representing Solkin, said his client has been outspoken about the poor conditions since the 2016 transfer.

He said the decision to seek leave to launch the class action suit was launched now "because things aren't getting better."

"They've had two years. It's not for lack of trying or asking, but nothing has happened."

Solkin pays more than $1,000 a month for his care at Ste. Anne's. 

The application alleges the federal government gave the Quebec government as much as $30 million so that the hospital could be maintained at the same high standard of care for which the facility was known.

Solkin says he filed access to information requests to find out where that money went, but that beyond paying for doctors' salaries and the daily cost of each veteran's care, he wasn't given a complete answer.

The suit is seeking compensation for the loss in services.

CBC News requested an interview with the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, which now oversees Ste. Anne's, but so far has had no response.

Remembrance Day around the corner

Solkin said he found it ironic that the lawsuit application has been filed so close to Remembrance Day, Nov. 11.

"We need to be remembered, too, because, being in our late nineties, we'll be in the other category damn soon enough," he said.

"As long as we're still alive, we deserve the care, the attention and the quality and the dignity of life that we merit."

About the Author

Verity Stevenson

Verity Stevenson is a reporter with CBC in Montreal. She has previously worked for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star in Toronto, and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John.