Past failures may have helped protect long term care homes from COVID-19: lawyer - InfoNews

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Past failures may have helped protect long term care homes from COVID-19: lawyer

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April 04, 2020 - 8:00 AM

The fact that COVID-19 hasn’t yet moved into long term care homes outside the Lower Mainland may be due, in part, to the fact that families of residents already know there are staff shortages and other problems within those facilities, according to one B.C. lawyer.

“One of the things with these homes, is that family members and residents themselves are quite aware of the deficiencies,” Victoria lawyer Patrick Dudding told “The family members I’ve spoken to have taken extreme precautions when they’re visiting the homes to ensure they’re not spreading the virus.”

While access from outside visitors has been severely restricted, that awareness may have prevented the early spread of the virus in some homes.

In February, Dudding filed a class action lawsuit against Retirement Concepts. It owns 20 long-term care homes in B.C., including the Summerland Seniors Village that was put under administrative control by Interior Health in February. It also owns Kamloops Seniors Village and Williams Lake Seniors Village.

The documents filed with the suit (which has not yet been certified as a class action) alleges mismanagement and short staffing contributed to residents being harmed, with some even dying.

Since an story on the lawsuit in March, Dudding’s had “scores” of people contact him about their own concerns, including families of residents of all three Interior facilities.

That was before COVID-19 roared through the Lynn Valley Care Centre and is now in at least 21 other Lower Mainland care facilities. The only one of those owned by Retirement Concepts is the Dufferin Care Centre in Coquitlam.

Part of the reason COVID-19 spread to so many other homes, according to B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, is because private care homes have been able to drive down wages so employees sometimes work at two or three different facilities so they can easily spread the virus.

“There are a number of good actors (operating for-profit long term care homes),” Dudding said. “There is really only one Retirement Concepts — an actor that is so bad, that’s generated so many complaints and investigations and problems and deaths over its operations. While I do question the wisdom of the system overall, I point out that this is a maverick actor in this system. Most facilities – the vast majority of facilities – are able to operate in a far better manner than Retirement Concepts are.”

That may be of some comfort to families of residents in other care homes but that doesn’t mean the virus still won’t spread into the Interior.

New rules are being put in place to make sure staff don’t work in more than one facility and minimum staffing levels will be maintained. The Provincial Health Officer has also revised outbreak protocols so, if there’s even one confirmed case of COVID-19 in staff or residents at a long term care home, it’s treated as an outbreak and full protective measures are taken. In the past, there had to be two cases.

The changed practices are expected to stay in place for at least six months then be reviewed. Mackenzie is hoping, after the tragedies that have happened because of COVID-19, the system will be reformed.

In some ways, that may take the wind out of Dudding’s class action suit.

“We look for three things in a class,” he said. “We look for acknowledgement of harm and wrongdoing. We look for fair compensation and we look for systemic change to make sure these things never happen again. That third one is far more important to class members and to us. So, if that systemic change comes about, whether it’s a result of the class action or COVID or both, that is tremendous good news for all British Columbians.”

People can’t join the class action until it’s certified. A hearing is scheduled for June to start that process but it may be delayed. In the meantime, Dudding is looking for more input from families of residents in all Retirement Concepts homes so he can paint a clearer picture of problems there.

He can be contacted by calling 250-384-6262. More information on Dudding can be found here.

Dudding is not the only one fighting for the rights of seniors in care homes.

Crying Out Loud for Seniors Care is a group in the Comox Valley with a web site that advocates for seniors.

Care homes also have, or should have, family councils where families of residents can get together to share their concerns.

The Vancouver Island Association of Family Councils have joined all those councils on the Island. Learn more here.

“The force of a class action is really about voices joining together,” Dudding said. “You’ve spoken with individuals who feel like they’re screaming at a brick wall. But, if you get enough of those voices together, it’s a shout loud enough that you can hear it across the province and that’s what ends up forcing change.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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