This story was originally published on Nov. 2, 2018.

UPDATE: In February 2019, this class action was discontinued. The plaintiffs are now moving forward with a mass tort, where all individual cases will be heard by the same judge. In total, between 100 and 120 individual cases are currently moving through the courts."

TORONTO - Early one Saturday morning in September, dozens of families gathered at a conference room in a north Toronto hotel for a meeting by the Nursing Home Action Coalition.

The families claim that the nursing homes they paid to look after their loved ones failed them miserably and they want those homes held accountable.

Over 200 families have joined an unprecedented lawsuit about to be launched against Canada's three biggest for-profit long-term care home chains: Revera, Extendicare and Sienna Senior Living.

Francis Yorke, whose mother lived at an Extendicare home in Scarborough, Ont., is one of those suing.

"She was in diapers. She was always wet and dirty. To me, they didn't keep the place clean because there was a cockroach in bed with my mom," Yorke said.

It was stories like Yorke's that caught the attention of Amani Oakley, founder of the Nursing Home Action Coalition, whose specialty is malpractice law.

Oakley's pending suit is taking on Extendicare, a public company with revenues of a billion dollars a year from all sources, which includes 96 long-term care homes across Canada, Sienna Senior Living with annual operating revenues of more than $500 million which includes 45 long-term care homes, and privately-owned Revera, which operates 73 homes, but does not report financial data.

The civil suit, known technically as a mass tort, has yet to be filed. Oakley plans to do that in the new year.

According to forensic accountant Al Rosen, for-profit nursing homes in Canada are very lucrative.

He told W5 that, in 2017, Extendicare paid its president and CEO just under $4 million and paid out more than $37 million in dividends to shareholders.

That same year, Sienna Senior Living paid its CEO a little over $1.2 million and over $36 million in dividends to shareholders.

All three long-term care homes declined interviews with W5, sending statements instead.

Revera wrote, "We are committed to providing a safe, caring and supportive environment in which all our residents are treated with dignity and respect. We will deal with any further actions presented to us at the appropriate time."

Extendicare stated, "We care about the people and families we serve, and our staff work to provide them with comfort, care and compassion when it is most needed. We do not believe that the lawsuit or the damages sought in it have merit and are vigorously defending ourselves against the claim."

Sienna Senior Living explained, "We maintain that the claim does not have merit and we continue to vigorously defend it through the appropriate court process."

Following publication of W5's online story, Sienna sent an additional statement, insisting that, "We are proud of the more than 12,000 team members who deliver quality services and care in our communities, helping residents live fully, every day. Our strong track record reflects our exemplary approach to care, as we outperform provincial and national averages on the majority of Canadian Institute for Health Information publicly reported quality indicators."

Read Extendicare, Sienna Senior Living, and Revera’s full responses to W5

Several studies comparing the quality of care in for-profit versus not-for-profit homes reported that the care is better in not-for-profit homes.

Read studies recommending not-for-profit versus for-profit homes:

  1. Observational Evidence of For-Profit Delivery and Inferior Nursing Home Care: When Is There Enough Evidence for Policy Change?
  2. Hospitalization and Mortality Rates in Long-Term Care Facilities: Does For-Proft Status Matter?
  3. Marketization in Long-Term Care: A Cross Country Comparison of Large For-Profit Nursing Home Chains

Even the Ontario Nurses Association supports not-for-profit homes.

At a recent public inquiry into long-term care in Ontario, the association recommended that all for-profit long-term care homes are eliminated and/or that for-profit homes are replaced by not-for-profit homes within five years.

Read the Ontario Nurses Association’s presentation at the public inquiry into long-term care homes

But, for Yorke, the lawsuit is not about money.

"To make a difference because one day I may have to be in that situation. Or when I’m gone maybe my children one day will have to be in that situation. So someone has to stop and change it."