Patients’ rights group launches $500M class action
July 18, 2018
MONTREAL – A patients’ rights group has launched a class-action suit against Quebec’s network of long-term care centres for providing its residents with “bad service.”
The suits seeks compensatory damages of $250 to $750, as well as exemplary damages of $100, for each month spent within the network by its 37,000 users over the past three years, an award that could add up to a minimum of $500 million.
Daniel Pilote (pictured), 56, who has lived in a St-Jean-sur-Richelieu long-term care nursing facility for the past four years, says medical staff there are so overworked that he’s afraid no one will get to him in time should his breathing machine fail.
Paralyzed from the neck down with muscular dystrophy, Pilote says he’s being rough-handled by staff that has about 10 minutes to wash and dress him each day.
The Montreal Gazette reports that Pilote has become the plaintiff in the class-action suit against the network of long-term care centres for providing its residents with “bad service” the lawsuit describes as abusive.
The Conseil pour la protection des malades (CPM) spent months preparing the suit, which cites “deplorable and shameful” conditions inflicted on patients “too vulnerable to complain.”
“Fundamentally, it’s about dignity, how we treat our elderly people in the system,” said lawyer Philippe Larochelle, an expert in class-action procedures who filed the suit. “It boils down to a question of dignity as protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”
The class action suit cites 22 examples of conditions it contends are unacceptable, ranging from quality of care and food to the maintenance of the centres.
The legal action targets all public long-term centres in the province as well as some private institutions where the CPM was able to gather complaints from residents. It’s also based on a collection of media stories that paint a gloomy picture, for example, of residents getting one bath a week, being left for hours in soiled diapers and suffocating in rooms without air conditioning.
Long-term residences are supposed to be a “milieu de vie” or a living environment, Larochelle said, “and I haven’t heard of one that’s exemplary.”
“The suit is a cry of alarm that may act as a driving force for change so people can get the resources they need with dignity,” he said. “I have heard horror stories of people who have died in nursing homes because of an overdose.”
As the class action suit is a legal matter likely to go before the courts, the provincial health department will not be commenting specifically on the action itself, said Catherine Audet, press attaché to Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette.
In a statement sent by email, Audet said her government has made major investments to improve long-term facilities infrastructure and added 14 new nursing homes for a total of $470 million since 2014.
“Never has a government invested so much to improve the quality of life of the people who live there,” she said, from reviewing the food and hiring more staff, to adding a second bath a week for those residents who want it.
Every day, hundreds of orderlies, nurses and other health professionals work relentlessly in nursing homes to care for the elderly, she said.
Well, that’s not good enough, said patients-rights advocate Paul Brunet, head of the Conseil pour la protection des malades. Official government response that “we’re doing the best with what we have” whenever his organization complained of poor services in nursing homes just doesn’t cut it, he said.
“I’m sorry that’s insufficient – according to the constitutional rights of patients, they need to get safe, adequate and respectful service that respects their personal integrity,” Brunet said. “These are Charter rights. You can’t limit them because of lack of resources.”