Thunder Bay

Lawsuit filed against Southbridge Care Homes by residents, families of Roseview home in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Families and residents of the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay, Ont. have filed a lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes and Extendicare, and their lawyers say they intend to certify as a class action.

Lawyers say they intent to certify as class action, claiming $160 million for gross negligence, wrongful death

Families and residents at the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home have filed a lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes for $160 million alleging gross negligence and wrongful death. Lawyers say they intend to certify as a class action. (Matt Vis/CBC)

Families and residents of the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay, Ont. have filed a lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes and Extendicare, and their lawyers say they intend to certify as a class action.

The lawsuit, filed by Toronto-based law firm Will Davidson, is claiming $160 million for gross negligence, breach of the Human Rights Code and wrongful death on behalf of all residents of Southbridge-owned long-term care homes and retirement homes during the pandemic, as well as family members for residents who died during the pandemic.

"We've now launched this case against the home in Thunder Bay because these families and these residents are entitled to have answers as to what occurred, why it occurred and have their day in court and be compensated for what they've lost," said managing partner Gary Will.

The Southbridge Roseview long-term care home was the site of the deadliest outbreak of COVID-19 in northwestern Ontario, infecting more than 150 residents and staff and resulting in the deaths of 23 residents.

A provincial inspection report during the first few weeks of the outbreak confirmed that staffing shortages, an inability to manage wandering residents and inconsistent adherence to infection control procedures likely contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the home.

The outbreak was first declared at Southbridge Roseview on November 17 after one staff member tested positive for the respiratory disease.

Family member says he wants answers

Wayne Robinson, 81, is one of the 23 residents of Southbridge Roseview that died after contracting COVID-19 during the outbreak. He died on December 9, 2020.

His two children described him as "a loving and supportive father who coached soccer without even knowing anything about the sport … and learned to ski as an adult so the family could do [it] as an activity together."

Robinson's son Jeff says he remembers being very concerned when he heard that an outbreak was declared at Roseview.

"With long-term care, people are susceptible to getting the disease and then passing it on."

Wayne Robinson, 81, died at the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay, Ont. on December 9 after contracting COVID-19. (Submitted by Will Davidson)

As the outbreak continued, Jeff said his family grew increasingly concerned with how the outbreak was being managed, especially as it pertained to staffing levels and an inability to manage residents wandering.

Now, he and his family are looking for accountability from Southbridge.

"I'm hoping they acknowledge that they made a mistake," Jeff Robinson said. "There's never been an apology or anything to say 'I'm sorry. For the first five days, we were totally understaffed. We weren't prepared.'"

Long-term care home operators must be held accountable: lawyer

Gary Will, managing partner of Will Davidson, said the outbreak at the Thunder Bay home was extremely concerning.

"We're now 10 months into the pandemic. There should have been lots of lessons learned as a result of what we went through in March and April of last year, and the sad reality is that the lessons have not been learnt.

"There was not appropriate staffing, there was not appropriate PPE, there was not appropriate testing," Will added. "So when COVID got into this home, it spread rapidly, as it had previous to that."

The lawsuit was first launched in May 2020 against just one home owned by Southbridge, the Orchard Villa home in Pickering. But on February 9, just a few days after the outbreak at Roseview was declared over, the law firm amended their claim to include all residents and families of deceased residents at any Southbridge-owned or operated homes.

Gary Will is the managing partner of Will Davidson, the Toronto-based law firm that launched the class action lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes and Extendicare. (Will Davidson)

Will says there are three classes to the lawsuit: the estates of people that died during the pandemic; the group of residents that contracted and recovered from COVID-19; and the "many individuals who haven't been receiving a proper level of care," but who were not infected with the disease.

"These people are entitled to a better existence in these homes, and there has to be accountability and responsibility," Will said. "One of the most disturbing things is that the government has absolutely failed all Ontarians in failing to hold these homes accountable."

He added, "none of these homes have lost their license. No one has lost their job. No charges have been laid. No one has been held to account."

The lawyer said if people and companies aren't held to account for their negligence, they will continue to provide a substandard level of care.

A date has not yet been set for certification hearings, which is the next step in the legal process.

More than 21,000 residents and staff of long-term care homes had been infected with COVID-19 since April 24, and nearly 630 homes had been or are in an active state of outbreak, as of February 19.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Southbridge Care Homes said they would not comment on the lawsuit while it is before the courts, but that they are committed to providing "a high standard of care."

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