Dozens of nursing homes across the Province of Ontario experienced large COVID-19 outbreaks during the height of the pandemic. None were affected more severely than Orchard Villa Retirement Community in Pickering. On May 25, 2020, Will Davidson LLP announced a COVID-19 class action lawsuit against Orchard Villa and its owner, Southbridge Care Homes. On June 23, the Statement of Claim was amended to include Extendicare (Canada) Inc., the home’s operator.
“When COVID-19 hit both the owners and managers of Orchard Villa were woefully unprepared to deal with the crisis,” said Gary Will, the lead counsel on the case and a Will Davidson LLP partner, in a statement. “Orchard Villa has the very highest death rate in a long term care facility in Ontario with 85 deaths and a total of 269 infections. This home was grossly mismanaged. Extendicare and Southbridge must be held to account and there must be justice for the residents and their families.”
On June 11, the Durham Region medical officer of health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at Orchard Villa ended. In the following months, a clearer picture of the full scope of the outbreak has emerged, as well as a better understanding of what went wrong.
According to a recent report in the Toronto Star, ‘inspectors from the Ministry of Long-Term Care acting on a complaint found more than a dozen instances in which the home failed to comply with regulations’ in May and June. These failures included:
- Not training staff on infection control and containment within a week of hiring, a regulation instituted by the Ministry in March in direct response to the pandemic,
- Not providing an adequate skin assessment to a fallen resident, and,
- Not preventing the administration of an unprescribed medication to a resident.
Additionally, when Lakeridge Health assumed temporary management of the facility at the medical officer’s request in June, it found that the home was “significantly understaffed.”
Speaking with the Star, Patricia Spindel, co-founder of the advocacy group Seniors For Social Action Ontario, said: “Clearly the oversight of that facility has been in my view negligent on the face of it because you see no director’s orders issues, you see no licence revocations, you see no ceases admissions. That speaks to oversight that is off the rails.”
Also speaking with the Star, Laura Tamblyn, CEO of national seniors’ advocacy group CanAge, said: “We know that when there’s consistent failure to comply and where the outcomes are dangerous to residents, that there needs to be not just appropriate support but appropriate response, which means there needs to be teeth in the inspection and legislation. What we’ve seen with COVID is not so much a surprise but just an illumination of the problems in the system that we always knew were there. The question is: will we now actually fix it?”
Orchard Villa’s failures were particularly egregious given their surrounding circumstances. The home’s owner, operator, and staff should have redoubled efforts to ensure residents’ safety with the knowledge that COVID-19 poses unique risks to the sick and elderly. However, as Laura Tamblyn alluded to, the failures were part of an established pattern of inadequate care at the home.
“Orchard Villa was investigated by the Ministry of Long Term Care on nineteen occasions from 2017 to 2019 in response to specific complaints concerning serious deficiencies in the level of care at Orchard Villa,” said Gary Will, in the same statement. “The Ministry spent over 43 days at Orchard Villa investigating the complaints. The Ministry issued 65 written warnings, 32 voluntary plans of correction, 12 compliance orders, and referred 3 matters to the Director.”
Family members of Orchard Villa residents are desperate for change and eager to the hold the facility to account. Sylvia Lyon is the representative plaintiff in our COVID-19 class action. Her mother, a resident at the facility, died from the illness in April.
“My mother was a good, decent individual who had overcome many obstacles in her life,” Lyon said in a statement. “We entrusted her care to the owners of Orchard Villa. In addition to the amounts many families paid to have their mothers and fathers looked after, Orchard Villa received over $11 million in funding each and every year from the Ontario government. Yet each year the care provided was less and less. There needs to be accountability to the taxpayers of the province and to the families of residents who passed away over the last two months.”
Speaking with the Star, June Morrison, whose father George was also a resident at Orchard Villa and also died of COVID-19, said: “I personally think they need their license revoked. They have proven time after time based on the inspection reports that they fail to live up to regulations and legislation.”
Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More About our COVID-19 Class Action
If your family has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak at Orchard Villa or any other long-term care facility in Ontario, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. In addition to our COVID-19 class action against Orchard Villa, our team is investigating or actively pursuing claims against several other facilities. Learn more here.