Families sue Ontario long-term care providers over 'disgusting' neglect
WARNING: This story contains graphic details and images.
Their stories are horrific.
A man pitted with gaping bedsores, one even revealing bone. A woman left writhing in agony on a washroom floor with a broken ankle after being told to “clean up her own mess.” Another woman with a festering leg wound filled with wriggling maggots.
All of these shocking scenes were the result of neglect by two major Ontario nursing home providers, two new proposed class-action lawsuits allege.
“This is not a one-off scenario. These problems are pervasive,” lawyer Amani Oakley, who is leading both lawsuits, told CTV News.
“We are alleging that there is a systemic negligence going on, that there is a failure to deliver the kind of care that’s been promised.”
The landmark lawsuits, which are believed to be the first of their kind in Canada, target two industry giants: Extendicare and Leisureworld Senior Care Corporation, which was recently rebranded Sienna Senior Living. They’re seeking $150 million each.
“We’re saying that on a systemic basis, the care is not being delivered,” Oakley said.
“There is negligence throughout theses organization and there is a breach of fiduciary duty, so there is a breach of the promise that these people are actually buying into, which is our family is going to be looked after.”
'He was 85 pounds at the end'
Jose Novo was 63 when he had a stroke.
Soon after, Novo’s family decided to move him into the Tullamore Care Community, a long-term care facility in Brampton, Ont., that is operated by Sienna.
Once there, Novo’s health rapidly deteriorated, his family says.
“He was good” when he was first admitted, Novo’s daughter, Ana Leite, told CTV News.
“But then after, he just didn’t seem happy,” she added. “He wanted us to take him away from the nursing home.”
Novo’s family alleges that the home continuously failed to ensure that he was receiving fluids and food, despite the fact that Novo could not feed himself. Novo was even briefly hospitalized for dehydration.
“He was malnourished,” Leite said. “He was about 85 pounds in the end. He looked like a skeleton.”
By the time Novo died, his body was riddled with yawning bedsores. A photo shows that some were so deep, bone was poking through. Leite says what her father experienced was “beyond pain.”
“The sores were just getting worse and worse,” Novo’s son, Jeffrey Novo, added. “It was disgusting.”
Novo was only 65 when he died in 2016.
“They didn’t do their job,” the son said of the long-term care home. “There is no way it should have (gotten) that bad.”
Tullamore’s staff, Leite added, offered little in terms of apology or explanation for her father’s awful condition.
“They said they did the best that they can,” she said.
Sienna Senior Living / Leisure World told CTV News that it is reviewing the claim.
“The health and well-being of all residents is our primary focus, and we take pride in the quality of care our team members provide,” Sienna added. “Our mission is to help residents live fully, every day.”
'She couldn’t make it to the toilet'
Shirley Murphy moved into the Extendicare-run Craiglee Nursing Home in Toronto in June 2016. She was 72 years old.
One of her daughters, Elizabeth Williams, told CTV News her mom still “had her mind” when she went to the facility. “She just had this chronic skin condition and she had really bad arthritis and she was getting weaker,” Williams said.
Soon after moving in, Murphy suffered a broken leg after an accident in the washroom.
“She couldn’t make it to the toilet and one of the (Personal Support Workers) told her to get down and clean down her own mess,” said daughter Cynthia Devereaux. “She slipped and broke her foot in two places.”
Oakley, the lawyer leading the lawsuits, alleges that Murphy stayed on the floor for 20 to 30 minutes, crying out for help.
Murphy’s daughters say their mother’s catheter was not changed for months, she wasn’t bathed for weeks, her sleep apnea machine was left unplugged, her sores weren’t cleaned and her medicine wasn’t administered.
Murphy begged not to have to stay in the home, but the family did not have the money to send her somewhere else, Devereaux said. Even if they had, the waiting list can be years long.
Murphy died in February 2017 of a severe infection, just six months after arriving at the home.
“We’re very angry because it shouldn’t have happened,” Devereaux said. “We put her in there to be looked after and cared for and this is what we get?”
Devereaux and Williams say they are suing Extendicare so that other families won’t have to go through the same pain.
'Something crawling inside her leg wound'
Lara Gerol is also suing Extendicare, alleging that her mother, Luba Ijnatieva, received inadequate care at Ottawa’s West End Villa, where she moved in 2007.
“In October 2016, Luba complained to Lara that she felt “something crawling” inside her leg wound, which had not been properly cleaned or checked for an extended period of time,” the statement of claim alleges.
“Subsequently, Luba was hospitalized in order to address the chronic wound on her leg. Luba and Lara were shocked and extremely upset to learn that the wound had been infested with fly maggots,” the statement of claim goes on.
“It would require a number of days for the larvae/maggots to grow to a size where they were plainly visible,” the claim states.
Extendicare national director Rebecca Scott Rawn said in a statement to CTV News that its staff works hard to provide residents with “comfort, care and compassion.”
“We do not believe this lawsuit has merit and intend to demonstrate this through the court process,” Rawn said.
“Extendicare has very comprehensive programs which ensure that residents of its homes are appropriately cared for and conducts regular internal audits, external audits, and program evaluations to continuously improve, and our performance is shared publicly,” Rawn added.
Extendicare “work(s) with our residents and families to address issues and concerns and it is unfortunate when they cannot be resolved.”
'Nothing isolated about these cases'
Extendicare and Leisureworld operate 96 and 45 long-term care homes in Canada respectively.
The companies' CEOs both earn more than $1.5 million per year, according to Oakley.
“You’ve got to hit some of these companies in the bottom line,” Oakley said. “I hope this is going to make a difference because my heart twists in a knot for these people.”
“There is nothing isolated about these cases,” Oakley added. “And nothing is changing.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Oakley has partnered with law firms Howie, Sacks & Henry and Diamond & Diamond for the class actions. They are setting up what they call the Nursing Home Action Coalition to handle what could be very large cases.
Oakley is the same lawyer who in 2016 launched a civil class action lawsuit against Revera, another long-term care industry giant, alleging negligence in providing care. Some 90 families have joined that suit.
“I think that there is nothing that we would see of this magnitude in any other sector of society and say it’s OK,” Oakley said.
“We wouldn’t tolerate it in daycares, we wouldn’t tolerate it in animal shelters. If we saw the kinds of injuries that these people are displaying in photos on a dog or a cat, heads would roll and there would public outrage.”
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip