Ottawa

Class action alleges neglect by nursing home owners

Sally Acker wants accountability for her mom, Gloria Leitch, who died of COVID-19 on April 28 at the Madonna Care Community in Ottawa. That's why Acker has joined a $100-million class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Defendants Sienna and Revera operate more than 130 care homes across Ontario

Sally Acker's mother, Gloria Leitch, died of COVID-19 at the Madonna Care Community in April. Acker has now signed up as part of a potential class-action lawsuit that includes Sienna, Madonna's owner. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Sally Acker wants accountability for her mom, Gloria Leitch, who died of COVID-19 on April 28 at the Madonna Care Community in Ottawa. She was 88.

That's why Acker has joined a $100-million class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The revised claim is against Revera Retirement Living and Sienna Senior Living, which both own and manage long-term care facilities across the country. Combined, the two companies own more than 130 nursing homes in Ontario alone. 

An earlier statement of claim named Revera only, but now there are six plaintiffs including two whose father lived at Madonna, where as of Wednesday afternoon 33 residents and one staff member had died of COVID-19.

This class action, which must be examined and certified by a judge in order to move forward, alleges negligence and breach of contract.

"I believe that a lot of the residents were infected with COVID because the proper infection controls weren't being used or followed proper procedures," Acker said. "It chokes me up. It's terrible. It's elder abuse, and I hate to say that, but it's neglect."

Sally Acker, whose mother died on April 28 at the Madonna Care Community, says she was able to sit with her mother in her final minutes. 0:38

'Somebody should be responsible'

Recognizing her mother was close to death, staff at Madonna allowed Acker to visit her during the final four days of her life. Acker said she witnessed staff "running off their feet" during that time.

But Acker said a camera she'd placed in Leitch's room earlier also showed her mother was left staring at a wall for about 12 hours, except for "toileting and feeding."

"I did call to complain, and the only answer I got was, 'That breaks my heart, but we are so short staffed there's nothing you can do about it,'" Acker said. "I'm not blaming the PSWs. They are truly my heroes ... [but] somebody should be responsible."

Communication a problem

Like Acker, Scia Shortliffe and Angele Mansfield lost a loved one to COVID-19 at Madonna. Their father, Dennis Shortliffe, had only lived at the home since January. He died April 23.

Shortliffe and Mansfield are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Their lawyer told CBC earlier this week they were unavailable to comment for this story.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, Scia and Angele received little to no communication from the Defendants [Madonna] regarding the measures that the Defendants were taking to keep their residents safe from COVID-19," according to the statement of the claim.

Inadequate staffing, improper supervision and poor planning are also among the claims against the companies. 

Dr. Rhonda Collins, chief medical officer at Revera, says the company has very clear outbreak protocols. (Submitted/Revera)

'Clear outbreak protocols'

Revera Retirement Living, a subsidiary of Revera Inc., owns or operates more than 500 properties across Canada, the U.S. and U.K., while Sienna Senior Living Inc. is a publicly traded company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. 

In a statement to CBC News regarding the initial statement of claim filed against Revera, the company said it would be reviewing the lawsuit and would respond in due course.

What we're hearing from the families is that this is an issue of not being prepared, not adequately caring for the residents.- Darryl Singer, lawyer

"However, we will not let it distract us from our singular focus at this time, which is to prevent further illness and loss of life," the statement said.

The company adds it's been following government directives since the outset of the pandemic.

"We all thought we were very well prepared. We deal with outbreaks all the time: influenza outbreaks, rhinovirus, other coronaviruses," Dr. Rhonda Collins, the chief medical officer at Revera, told CBC in a recent interview. 

"We have very clear outbreak protocols that are communicated to staff on a regular basis. Staff are trained and educated about use of [personal protective equipment] and about following protocols for hand hygiene and infection prevention and control measures." 

Sienna did not respond to CBC's request for comment regarding the lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon.

The lawyer who filed the suit, Darryl Singer, with Diamond and Diamond in Toronto, said he's been contacted by hundreds of people who represent thousands of residents and family members across Ontario.

Lawyer Darryl Singer has launched a lawsuit against Revera and Sienna claiming negligence and breach of contract. The suit has yet to be certified. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

"What we're hearing from the families is that this is an issue of not being prepared, not adequately caring for the residents," said Singer, who noted there's a push for these companies to put better systems in place for the future.

"This is the initial pandemic period.  Our medical officers of health across the country are all saying the same thing, not just in Ontario: there's going to be a second wave and possibly a third wave."

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated Scia Shortliffe and Angele Mansfield declined to comment to CBC. In fact, it was their lawyer who told CBC they were unavailable to comment.
    May 13, 2020 1:27 PM ET

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

With files from Judy Trinh

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