Lack of preparation, hasty decisions, improvisation: A class action lawsuit filed in Quebec Superior Court alleges negligence by the province’s public CHSLDs during the first two waves of COVID-19.
This mismanagement at CHSLDs led to outbreaks that resulted in at least 5,000 deaths between March 13, 2020 and March 20, 2021, the lawsuit says.
This class action lawsuit against the provincial government is filed on behalf of all CHSLD residents who experienced COVID-19 outbreaks during the first two waves of the pandemic and on behalf of the families of those who died.
The lead plaintiff in this case, Jean-Pierre Daubois, lost his 94-year-old mother, a resident of the CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval, in April 2020. During this first wave, almost half of the residents became infected with COVID – 19 died.
The CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée experienced the worst outbreak in Quebec and one of the worst on the planet. Based on the findings of this case, we found that there were several deficiencies in the preparation and management, explained Me Patrick Martin-Ménard, the lawyer representing Mr. Dubois.
We want the Quebec government to be held responsible for this lack of preparation. There was serious incompetence on their part, we want that to change.
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The flag flies at half-mast in the National Assembly on March 11, 2021 to commemorate the victims of COVID-19. (archive photo)
Photo: Radio-Canada / Sylvain Roy Roussel
An answer too late
During the first hearings held at the Montreal courthouse on Monday, Me Martin-Ménard explained that Quebec had a plan to combat a 2006 pandemic. However, the government lacked care for the public of CHSLD residents by delaying implementation of this action plan, the lawsuit argues.
Quebec’s pandemic response plan, Martin-Ménard said, requires the government to alert health facilities about the pandemic if a new virus is confirmed to be spreading from animals to people. This circumstance was already known for COVID-19 on January 6, 2020, but the province did not issue a warning, complained the lawyer.
The government only officially began preparing for the pandemic outbreak in late February, two days before the first cases were discovered in the province.
What we are asserting here is that if this plan had been implemented, as it should have been in January 2020, facilities would have had time to prepare for the pandemic and prepare vulnerable clients.
As of late March, no specific plans had been communicated to the health system to protect long-term care centers, he added. This delay caused Quebec to miss its preparation window, with disastrous consequences.
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In March 2021, a procession was held in several CHSLDs in the Laval region to commemorate the disappearance of COVID-19 victims and highlight the work of frontline workers. (archive photo)
Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers
Deaths that could have been avoided
Instead of implementing the existing plan, the lawyer said, the government improvised and moved patients from hospitals to long-term care centers to free up hospital beds.
These facilities are unprepared to receive additional patients and cannot adequately care for residents after the government banned visits from family caregivers, Martin-Ménard said.
In one case, he said, a woman who relied on visits from her daughter to help her eat died shortly after such visits were banned.
The government has limited the ability of long-term care patients to go to hospital if they have COVID-19, but the province has not assessed whether long-term care centers have the ability to treat those patients, the lawyer argued.
All of this had serious consequences, not only for the people who contracted COVID-19, but also for those hit hard by the lack of care they suffered as a result.
The lawyer said the class action could involve more than 10,000 people. The compensation sought will depend on the number of members identified, he said, adding that it could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Lawyers for the Quebec government declined to comment on the case Monday. The health institutions will present their counterarguments on Thursday and Friday. The judge must then decide whether the class action lawsuit can continue or not.
With information from The Canadian Press