West End Villa residents, families launch class action

Residents of Ottawa's West End Villa and their families have launched a $16-million class-action suit against Extendicare, the owner of the long-term care home where 19 people have died in a COVID-19 outbreak. 

$16M suit claims home where 19 have died provided 'inadequate care'

The federal government is sending workers from the Red Cross into seven long-term care homes in Ottawa. Extendicare-owned West End Villa, seen in this photo, is currently in the midst of the province's most serious COVID-19 outbreak. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Residents of Ottawa's West End Villa and their families have launched a $16-million class-action suit against Extendicare, the owner of the long-term care home where 19 people have died in a COVID-19 outbreak.

The claim, filed in court Thursday, alleges Extendicare was negligent and breached the basic human rights of the home's residents.

In a statement to CBC, the company stated it had not received "any documentation or notice related to the purported class action."

West End Villa is one of two long-term care homes in the city whose management will be taken over by The Ottawa Hospital following a provincial order last Friday.

On Friday, there were 32 staff members and 18 residents with active cases of COVID-19 at West End Villa. Nineteen people have died, all residents, since the outbreak began on Aug. 30, Extendicare confirmed Friday.

The home is still waiting on test results from 279 staff members and residents. 

'It's been horrible'

Suzanne Zagallai and her mother Peggy Hannon, 74, a resident at West End Villa, are lead plaintiffs in the suit on behalf of other residents and their relatives, whether or not they've tested positive or died from COVID-19. Hannon tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-September.

"It's been horrible, and my heart breaks," Zagallai said. "I want this to be different going forward for other families." 

The claim argues the home failed to protect residents in both its preparation for and response to the pandemic. 

"As a result, there was a mass spread of COVID-19 at West End Villa and the Plaintiffs and the Class Members sustained serious and permanent personal injuries and damages, including death," according to the claim.

The claim states Hannon's family received scant information about her health after she tested positive, and their requests to transfer her to hospital for medical care went unanswered.

'Inadequate care'

It goes on to say residents "were left with inadequate care in respect of basic necessities causing the Resident Claimants and Deceased Victims to suffer dehydration, malnutrition and other related physical ailments resulting in hospitalization and/or death."

This will be the sixth proposed class action launched by law firm Thomson Rogers on behalf of residents of for-profit long-term care homes.

"The focus of these claims is against the private home for-profit operators who are making millions of dollars a year off the care of our seniors, from whom we expect a lot more," said lawyer Stephen Birman. 

The claim also states the company failed to implement adequate infection prevention measures at West End Villa and other facilities "in order to maximize their profits and to the detriment of the Resident Claimants and Deceased Victims, including Peggy [Hannon]."

Lack of PPE

At the same time, the claim points out West End Villa generated headlines over allegations staff there lacked adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

"They acted in a self-interested manner putting corporate profits ahead of the care of their residents by, among other things, failing to have adequate levels of staffing and PPE," according to the claim.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

"There's just this added level of sorrow associated with seeing this issue continue to be present now, six, seven months later during this second wave," said Birman.

"I can't believe this is happening again," agreed Zagallai. "Why wasn't everything in place?"

In its statement, Extendicare said: "We continue to work closely with public health and the Ottawa Hospital to ensure our infection control practices are informed by the latest available evidence, and we will continue to test rigorously so that we can combat the virus effectively and remove it from our home as soon as possible.

"Our hearts are with our community and those who have lost loved ones to this virus during this immensely challenging time."

The class action must be certified by a judge if it is to go ahead. Certification can take more than a year.

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