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‘I’m still mad’: Class action OK’d for COVID-19 outbreaks in Quebec LTC homes

A class-action lawsuit can go ahead against the Quebec government on behalf of residents in public long-term care homes that had major COVID-19 outbreaks during the first year of the pandemic, the province’s superior court has decided.

Justice Donald Brisson authorized the legal action Monday after a lawyer seeking permission to bring the suit argued before the court last September.

The case’s lead plaintiff is Jean-Pierre Daubois. His 94-year-old mother Anna José Maquet died in April 2020 at the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care home in Laval during a COVID-19 outbreak that infected more than 200 residents.

Maquet choked while drinking water and was placed on a respiratory distress protocol that Daubois says he believes led to her death. The centre had staff shortages during that period, where 101 residents died.

“It’s a big victory for the families, this first step,” Daubois said about the judge’s authorization of the class action at a news conference on Tuesday.

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“And we intend to continue because we want (the Quebec government) to be accountable for what they did and did not do.”

The lawsuit names as defendants the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care centre, 20 regional health authorities and the province’s attorney general — as the representative of the health minister and public health director.

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It alleges the Quebec government’s failure to prepare for the novel coronavirus’ arrival as it began spreading in other parts of the world led to preventable deaths. Thousands of seniors died in the province’s long-term care homes in the pandemic’s first two waves.

Daubois, for his part, said Tuesday he is looking for “accountability and for this to not happen again.”

“I’m still mad because it was avoidable,” Daubois said of his mother’s death.

The class action includes anyone who lived in long-term care centres — known in Quebec as CHSLDs — where at least 25 per cent of residents were affected by COVID-19 outbreaks between March 13, 2020, and March 20, 2021.

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The plaintiffs’ lawyer Patrick Martin-Ménard estimates that includes more than 6,000 residents across the province and an unknown number of family members. He said hundreds of people have reached out to him about their experience with nursing homes during the pandemic.

“It’s around 118 public CHSLDs,” Martin-Ménard said of how many long-term care homes are targeted by the class action.

The lawsuit is looking to obtain $100,000 in compensation for any resident who contracted the virus and $40,000 for any resident who didn’t get sick. This doesn’t include additional compensation for both groups’ families.

The suit is also seeking $10 million in punitive damages. It alleges that government decisions — including to move hospital patients into long-term care centres — led to more fatalities.

More than 5,000 people died in CHSLDs during the first year of the pandemic — the same period mentioned in the lawsuit.

In November 2021, a report by the province’s ombudswoman said long-term care homes were mostly forgotten in the province’s early planning for COVID-19. Marie Rinfret said the Quebec government’s strategy was mostly hospital-centric and neglected the danger posed to vulnerable residents in CHSLDs.

Quebec’s coroner also found the government’s focus on hospitals coupled with the chronic dysfunction in the long-term care centres led to many deaths in the elder care system at the start of the pandemic.

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Global News has reached out to Quebec’s Health Ministry for its response to the class action. The provincial government has 30 days to appeal the decision.

— with files from Global’s Tim Sargeant and The Canadian Press

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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