COVID-19 has hit seniors hard in Ontario. In particular it has killed a disproportionate number of long term and seniors' home residents. The number of dead seniors – 1,798 as of last week is tragic.
Stories abounded early on of inadequate staffing and poor food, bad care, neglect and abuse. Of course, these stories are not new. Many homes have a long history of poor quality of care. Every year there are a few stories that hit the news, in some cases people are charged. Things are so bad that a serial killer was operating in the homes and was only caught because she turned herself in.
With the onset of COVID the stories began early on of healthcare workers being denied PPE, given inadequate staff to manage patients, being told not to isolate victims because it would cost too much to rearrange living conditions, of poor care, poor food, refusal of homes to call in to hospitals for help, and ultimately negligence. These were heavily downplayed by the homes initially however as the dead and dying were examined in hospitals and morgues the truth became evident. Dehydration, malnutrition, bedsores and other signs of neglect were rampant.
Staff were speaking to the press, the Ontario Nurses Association sued three large homes demanding they be supplied with adequate PPE to protect the patients and won. The Army was then called in to oversee operations in some of the worst hit homes. Their accounts and final report of the situations were damning. Many of them contracted COVID themselves.
It is abundantly clear from the outside that this is a system broken and that some entites and individuals must be held accountable for the poor standard of care provided by both for profit institutions (which were harder hit than the not for profit homes) and the public run homes for the needless deaths.
Class actions lawsuits have been launched agains the for profit homes, private lawsuits abound as well. The homes and their insurers have reacted quickly. It seems that just as with the auto insurance regime, insurers can sway government hard against the interests of their customers and in the interests of their own bottom lines.
News this last week revealed that Premier Doug Ford is considering protecting some business form the labilities linked to COVID-19 perhaps following the model of other jurisdictions that have limited the liability of essential service and health care providers during the pandemic. Some jurisdictions have specifically limited nursing home liability.
The argument essentially goes that if the class action lawsuits proceed, and the victim’s families win, the insurers will have to pay out so much that they will no longer be able to insure the homes and thus the homes will go out of business and the insurance companies will lose too much money.
Ford has informed reporters that he is sitting down to consider granting immunity, however, has also hastened to say,
“Let me be very, very clear. I’m not supporting bad actors … I’m holding these people accountable,” Ford said. “When we get through this whole process and find out exactly what happened in these homes, there’s going to be accountability.”