Vickie Makris lost her mother when the first COVID-19 wave swept through Quebec.
Her mother contracted the disease in a private long-term care home in Sainte-Adèle, Que., about 75 kilometres north of Montreal.
"You know, we took care of our parents as best as we could. And to have them die completely alone, hungry, thirsty, and scared ... it just wasn't right," said Makris.
She is now one of the plaintiffs in a $9-million lawsuit filed against the local health authority, the Quebec government and the owners of the homes.
That includes CISSS des Laurentides, CHSLD Pavillon Philippe-Lapointe, Maison Wilfrid-Grignon and Groupe Santé Arbec.
"We started this endeavour not for the money but because we want the health-care system in Quebec to change," said Makris.
She says not enough has been done to improve the system. Her sister says the family is still in pain.
"It all ruined my life and I'm still trying to figure out what happened. It is a pain that I cannot describe and a pain that is experienced by thousands of families," said Emmanoel Makris.
Man mourning his father fights for change
Patrick Dumont has joined the lawsuit. His father died in a long-term care home in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, not far from Sainte-Adèle.
He said he hopes the lawsuit will compel party leaders to talk about how seniors are treated in the health-care system.
"We're not talking about it as much as we should," he said.
Dumont said people are talking about inflation, the third link in Quebec City and road repair more than the issues seniors face.
Dumont recounted his experience during the first wave, desperately calling his father's residence in search of answers.
"But I never had a return call," he said, and eventually all residents of the Philippe-Lapointe Pavilion were infected.
Dumont's father survived his first infection but was infected twice before his death in October 2021 from COVID-19 complications.
"We trust them to take care of our seniors. They weren't prepared for this. They lacked equipment, personnel, training," he said.
Never enough lawsuits, advocate says
The two sisters and Dumont are suing for $3 million each for the "laxity in the sanitary rules practised during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020" and "a flagrant lack of guidelines for the safety of residents and staff," according to court documents.
The group's lawyer, Gérard Samet, said they are claiming this much in punitive damages to ensure nothing like this happens again.
"The system did not work well. There have to be consequences. People were left to die in appalling conditions," said Samet, noting precautions weren't taken in advance of the wave despite the risks being known.
This lawsuit is in addition to a $500-million, class-action suit authorized by Quebec Superior Court in October 2019 against the provincial government. That suit was launched by the Conseil pour la protection des malades (CPM), a patients' advocacy group and alleges a low standard of care before the pandemic.
Along with the government, that lawsuit targets 22 health authorities.
CPM's president and CEO, Paul G. Brunet, said there will never be enough lawsuits to ensure Quebec understands it will pay for failing to provide proper protection and care.
Brunet acknowledges that this class action may take several years to succeed, but it wouldn't be the fist victory since the pandemic struck.
A $5.5-million agreement was reached in March 2021 between the residents of CHSLD Herron, their family members and the home's owners.
Groupe Santé Arbec and the CISSS des Laurentides declined to comment. The Quebec government did not reply to CBC's request for comment Thursday.