One of Canada's largest long-term care operators is owned by a federal Crown corporation
'We are extremely saddened by the difficult circumstances,' Treasury Board President Duclos says
One of the largest operators of seniors' residences and long-term care homes in Canada is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP), a federal Crown corporation charged with investing funds for the pension plans of the federal public service, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force.
The company, Revera, owns or operates dozens of properties across Canada; it also has major holdings in the United States and the U.K., with a portfolio of seniors' apartments, assisted living and long-term care homes.
More than 55,000 seniors live in a property owned somewhere in the world by Revera, which also jointly owns some homes operated by Groupe Sélection in Quebec and has a majority ownership stake in Sunrise Senior Living.
Many long-term care homes in this country have been ravaged by COVID-19 outbreaks in recent weeks, and hundreds of residents have died.
As of early May, as many as 82 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Canada — 3,436 out of a total of 4,167 deaths — were of residents in long-term care settings, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Ontario announced last week it would launch an independent commission probe of the province's long-term care system.
A claim of negligence
A $50 million class action lawsuit was launched against Revera earlier this month on behalf of the families of COVID-19 victims at the company's long-term care facilities in Ontario. The company is being sued for negligence and breach of contract.
The plaintiffs allege the facilities lacked "proper sanitation protocols and adequate testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
The statement of claim also alleges Revera did not properly inform residents or families of any measures it was taking to keep its facilities safe. The allegations against Revera have not been tested in court and the application still needs to be certified by a judge.
Another $25-million class-action lawsuit has been filed against Revera over its operation of the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, where COVID-19 killed 21 residents and infected 63 others as well as 44 employees. The suit, which has not been certified, alleges the company was negligent and did not follow proper protocols to prevent the outbreak.
PSP Investments reports to Parliament through Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, who ultimately is responsible for the Crown corporation.
The company's board of directors is appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet through orders in council.
Revera told CBC News it's reviewing the class action claims and will respond to it eventually.
"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 company said in a statement.
When asked about the lawsuits Monday, Duclos said he couldn't comment on matters before the court ("That would be, of course, inappropriate for a minister to comment on," he said) but added the federal government is determined to do more to protect vulnerable seniors living in facilities like those owned by Revera.
"What I can say, however, is that we are extremely saddened by the difficult circumstances in which many of our seniors have been going through in the last few weeks," Duclos said. "We know that this requires a level of leadership."
When pressed on whether he could do more to manage Revera, as the minister in charge of PSP, Duclos said long-term care homes are largely the responsibility of the provinces.
"I think we will certainly be more mindful of the importance of protecting our seniors. And we will use all the tools that are appropriate for the federal government to do that," he said.
Long-term care facilities are not subject to the federal Canada Health Act, legislation which sets standards for publicly funded health care. At least one federal party leader, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, has said long-term care homes should be controlled by the state, given the poor outcomes in some private sector facilities during the pandemic.
"I think there's no question about it, given the results we're seeing, the evidence we're seeing that some of the worst conditions that seniors are in and some of the highest deaths have happened in the for-profit long-term care homes," he said earlier this month in an interview with CTV.
"Profit should not be the motive when it comes to how we care for our seniors."
PSP, established in 1999 to invest pension funds and generate returns to fund the retirement incomes of government workers, has $168 billion in assets under management. It is among the largest institutional investors in the country, with offices in Montreal, New York, London and Hong Kong.
- This story has been updated from a previous version that incorrectly stated Revera also trades under the name Groupe Sélection and Sunrise Senior Living. In fact, Revera jointly owns 33 homes operated by Groupe Sélection in Quebec and has a majority ownership stake in Sunrise Senior Living.May 26, 2020 1:35 PM ET
With files from the CBC's Julie van Dusen, Julianne Hazlewood