Proposed class action launched against Northwood over COVID-19 deaths

Families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax are seeking legal action.

Fifty-three residents have died at Northwood's Halifax campus and it is considered to be Nova Scotia's epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. As of Tuesday, the facility has five active cases remaining: three residents and two staff.

On Monday, Wagners Law Firm in Halifax filed a proposed class action against Northwood Care Group Inc. and its seven subsidiary and associated companies. The statement of claim alleges Northwood breached its legal obligations to its residents by failing to take steps in time to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

Ray Wagner, the lawyer representing the families, said the goal of the proposed class action boils down to accountability.

"We must do what we can to look at what has happened, learn from the past, and develop policies and procedures and protocols and financing that can provide dignity to those people who are living the last days of their lives," he said.


"And that can provide comfort and assurance to their family members who worry so much about their care."

The proposed representative plaintiff in the class action is Erica Surette, who lost her mother, Patricia West, on April 22.

West contracted COVID-19 after being moved from a single room to a shared room at Northwood on March 26. The statement of claim said West had initially tested negative shortly after the move.

'I'm hoping out of this will come answers'

A second test was arranged on April 11, but the statement alleged that nobody contacted Surette with the positive result until she contacted Northwood herself.

West was transferred to hospital in mid-April and was placed on a ventilator. She later died.

"Mom was 66, she was nowhere near her time and if there's anything that can come out of this, there's got to be some answers," Erica Surrette said.

"There's got to be some accountability for her death and all the other residents who have passed, all the families who have lost loved ones — it can't be for nothing.

"Something went off the rails somewhere, so I'm hoping out of this will come answers. That someone, somewhere, hones up to what went wrong."

The allegations

The statement of claim alleges Northwood failed to:

  • Provide care and lodging that protected the health of residents.
  • Take reasonable steps for preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Implement policies and procedures to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19.
  • Carry out appropriate testing, screening and research.
  • Promote and/or require the use of personal protective equipment and physical distancing measures.
  • Provide adequate warnings of the dangers posed by COVID-19.
  • Take reasonable steps to care for and treat residents with COVID-19.
  • Implement policies to isolate infected residents and staff.

The statement of claim noted Northwood Halifax "has long struggled to maintain adequate levels of staffing to care for residents, which was exacerbated by reductions to government funding that began in 2015."

Wagner said the law firm was also looking at the government's role in long-term care.

"The involvement in terms of funding, and how we fund those types of facilities where the public purse is heavily involved, is something that involves an examination not only in Nova Scotia but across the country," he said.

The statement of claim says the plaintiff and the class members have "suffered loss and damage in an amount not yet known but to be determined." They're seeking monetary and non-monetary damages, including the recovery of health-care costs incurred by the Nova Scotia Department of Health.

Northwood's response

In an emailed statement, Northwood spokesperson Murray Stenton said the company "remains committed to the care and safety of our residents and employees as we continue to manage active cases of COVID-19 at our Halifax campus."

"We have received notification of legal action and we will carefully review and vigorously respond," Murray wrote. "As this matter is before the courts, we are responding by statement."

Northwood has until June 16 to respond to the action.