Toronto

'Pure negligence': Health union calls on province to take over 3 long-term care homes

Some long-term care homes in Ontario are facing harsh criticism from healthcare unions on how they're handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Three homes have been taken to court by one union, while another is calling on the province to take over their operations.

Separate union files court injunction against same homes over handling of COVID-19

Etobicoke's Eatonville long-term care home, pictured on April 13, 2020, is in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak. (Evan Tsuyoshi Mitsui/CBC)

The Services Employees International Union is asking the province to take over operations at three long-term care homes in Ontario, where a combined total of 55 residents have died of COVID-19.

President Sharleen Stewart said the handling of the pandemic has been especially poor at Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville and Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke, describing it as reckless and careless.

"They did not put into action what needed to be done," she said. "This was pure negligence."

As of Saturday, 31 Eatonville residents have died and more than half are infected, according to executive director Evelyn MacDonald. The home is waiting for confirmation on whether an additional death is related to COVID-19.

There are 133 positive cases at the home, 84 more compared to Monday. Thirty-six additional test results are pending. 

Twenty- three residents have died of COVID-19 in Anson Place, according to executive director Lisa Roth. About 70 per cent of the 101 residents have the virus.

Hawthorne Place Care Centre's executive director Gale Coburn said 27 residents have tested positive for the virus there and one has died.

Several staff at the homes also have tested positive.

The executive directors of all three homes provided statements to CBC saying they are following public health directives. They outline the measuring being taken including all staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), enhanced screening and isolation of residents. 

Province rejects union's calls

When asked on Friday and Saturday if Ontario would follow the lead of other provinces like Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, and take over operations of some homes, Minister of Long-Term Care Merilee Fullerton said Ontario does not manage homes. 

"However, we do work to create the coordination with management groups that will go in and help our long-term care homes," she said Saturday. "We are actively aware of the homes that are at the most risk and we are working around the clock to make sure they get the support that they need."

Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville, Ont. is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. As of April 18, 71 residents had the virus and 23 died. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Stewart wrote an open letter Friday to Premier Doug Ford and health officials asking the government to take over operations at Anson Place and Eatonville, and added Hawthorne Place in North York to that list on Saturday. She said lives are at stake and she's disappointed with the province's dismissal.

"It's like sending people to war and they have no idea where the bullets are coming at them and they have no protection," she said of long-term care staff.

Ontario's chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said Saturday his office is doing an assessment of all long-term care homes to determine how to bring things under control.

Nurses union files court order

Eatonville, Anson and Hawthorne are all owned by Rykka Care Centres, which is an operating partner of Responsive Group. All three homes and both companies are named in a court injunction filed by the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA).

The union is asking a Superior Court judge to order that the homes comply with provincial infection control and health standards.

Court documents filed Friday allege nurses did not have proper access to PPE, symptomatic residents were not isolated and infected healthy residents and staff, and a lack of communication with staff and families.

"This is an urgent emergency situation," ONA president Vicki McKenna said in an interview.

She said general infection guidelines were not followed and the homes didn't enact their own infection control practices.

Responsive Group said it will provide specific details in affidavits filed through the court. In a statement, the company said the homes have "tremendous" relationships with their local public health units and have been following their directions and precautionary measures.

"Each of our homes have been working very closely with their local public health units, hand in glove, to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our residents and our staff," it reads.

It said all homes have the proper PPE and that all staff and residents have been tested or will be tested in all the homes. 

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning. 

Family mourns first Eatonville resident to die of COVID-19

Sean Orchard said his father, Maurice, was the first person to die of COVID-19 at Eatonville. He said the family found out he tested positive on April 1, the night before he died. 

"We did get to spend quality time with him under the palliative care procedure, but it happened very quickly," Orchard said. "My sister was traumatized by the way he died."

"It was a terrible death."

Maurice Orchard, a resident of Eatonville Care Centre, died of COVID-19 on April 2. (Submitted/Sean Orchard)

Orchard said he and his sister were visiting their father, who was at the end of his life, in the days leading up to his death. After he tested positive, family members were no longer allowed to visit, according to Orchard. His sister is now experiencing symptoms and is waiting for test results.

Orchard said his father moved from New Brunswick to Toronto to marry his mother. He did various jobs including driving for Coca-Cola and doing construction work, specifically on the CN Tower.

"He worked hard for all of his life to bring up four children," Orchard said. "He was a good man and he was a good father."

He said the situation is more difficult because they can't have a proper funeral given physical distancing rules. 

"I believe that the only way we're going to defeat Coronavirus is through cooperation, honesty, transparency and compassion," he said.

His mother was also a resident at Eatonville and said the staff have done a "wonderful job."

"I'm still behind you all the way," he said.

Bill Bennet, who was tying ribbons on trees and railings outside of the home Saturday to support residents including his 84-year-old mother, said the staff at Eatonville need more support. 

Bill Bennett tied ribbon outside of Eatonville long-term care home to support residents, including his mother. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

"The workers are bright and bushy-tailed coming in and when they leave, they're slouched," he told CBC News. "It's a loving place, but it's a dangerous place."

Bennet said he'll continue to be outside of the home each day until he knows his mother is well and the building is clear of COVID-19. She tested positive but is improving, he said.

Bennet echoed Orchard's appreciation for long-term care staff.

"They are such heroes and deserve such recognition," Bennet said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angelina King is a reporter with CBC Toronto where she covers a wide range of topics. She has a particular interest in crime, justice issues and human interest stories. Angelina started her career in her home city of Saskatoon where she spent much of her time covering the courts. You can contact her at angelina.king@cbc.ca or @angelinaaking

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