'We want justice for our mom': Lawsuits filed against long-term care providers alleging serious neglect
None of the allegations have been proven in court
In June 2016, Cynthia Devereaux put her ailing mother, Shirley Murphy, in a nursing home. She hoped she'd be looked after and that her family "wouldn't have any worries."
Six months later her mother died of sepsis after a number of harrowing incidents at Craiglee Nursing home in Scarborough that left her afraid and in pain, according to her family.
"We want justice for our mom," Devereaux told CBC Toronto following a news conference on Thursday in Toronto, adding "It's not just about our mother, it's about all the other people that are still suffering today in the homes."
Devereaux and her sister Elizabeth Williams are part of proposed class-action lawsuits filed against two Ontario-based long-term care providers, claiming the companies were "systemically negligent" toward residents in their care.
Statements of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court against Craiglee's parent company, Extendicare Inc., and Sienna Senior Living Inc. allege the companies breached their fiduciary and contractual responsibilities to patients.
The suits allege patients were left with untreated bedsores and other ailments, with one woman's wounds even becoming infested with maggots.
'She called us crying'
Three months before Murphy's death, she broke two bones in her ankle after her daughter said staff refused to help her clean up when she soiled herself accidentally.
"The [personal support worker] came in, got mad at her and told her to clean up her own mess, and mom got frightened," Devereaux explained.
Before that incident, Williams described a day when her mother was sitting on her bed in pain "and [staff] would just walk by her.
"She was in excruciating pain, and they just left her there, and she called us crying."
Website invites people to come forward
"That is unacceptable. It's simply unacceptable," Amani Oakley, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said at the press conference Thursday.
Oakley's firm has partnered with two others to form the Nursing Homes Action Coalition, which has launched a website inviting additional plaintiffs to come forward.
"Our office and the offices of the colleagues we're working with on this are inundated daily with these calls," said Oakley, surrounded by the family members of some of the plaintiffs named in the suits.
"One of the motivations for coming forward with these class actions was the sheer number of times we heard the same stories."
'It should never have gotten that bad'
Jeffrey Novo, whose father Jose Manuel Novo moved into a Sienna property in Brampton, Ont., in June 2014, said it didn't take long for him to think "there was something wrong" in the facility.
"He got skinny pretty quick. He didn't look right — especially when we saw the sores," said Novo, who claims some of his father's sores eventually went down to the bone.
"It should never have gotten that bad," he said. "Something was wrong, I knew it."
Novo's father died in May 2016 at the age of 65.
Provincial government 'will continue to take action,' Minister says
Oakley is calling for governments to crack down on alleged neglect at long-term care facilities by shutting down offending homes or levying heavy fines, rather than simply "catalogue the abuses."
Ontario Health and Long-Term Care Minister Helena Jaczek said her government is "continuously working to improve" long-term care in the province."
This includes new enforcement tools such as financial penalties and provincial offences for operators who repeatedly do not comply with provincial regulations," Jaczek said in a statement.
"We have done more to improve resident safety and well-being in this mandate than ever before, and we will continue to take action to ensure transparency in our health-care system."
New Democrat health critic France Gelinas said Thursday that the Ontario Liberal government hasn't done enough to protect residents of long-term care homes, who often have nowhere else to go.
"We know that there is a captive audience of very vulnerable seniors, and in many homes they are not getting the care they need," said Gelinas, who called bedsores "nursing care 101."
Extendicare said in a statement on its website that it does "not believe this lawsuit has merit," and it intends "to demonstrate this through the court process.
"Extendicare has very comprehensive programs which ensure that residents of its homes are appropriately cared for," the statement said.
"We work with our residents and families to address issues and concerns and it is unfortunate when they cannot be resolved."
In an emailed statement, Sienna Senior Living said it has received the claim and is "currently reviewing it."
The lawsuits seek a total of $300 million in damages from the two companies, including $100 million each in "aggravated and punitive damages."
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
With files from CBC News