South Edmonton care home facing $8.1M lawsuit over deadly COVID-19 outbreak

·5 min read

A south Edmonton long-term care facility at the centre of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak is facing a $8.1-million class-action lawsuit for negligence.

In a statement of claim filed Oct. 28 in the Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench, representative plaintiff Angelena Larson alleges that the not-for-profit Shepherd's Care Foundation breached its duty of care as the virus continued to spread through its Mill Woods care home.

The statement of claim, filed by Edmonton law firm James H. Brown and Associates, alleges the foundation left residents "unnecessarily exposed" to the risk of infection, even as the outbreak continued to escalate.

"At all relevant times, the defendants had an obligation to safeguard the life, health and dignity of residents and to ensure continued and adequate care," the statement of claim says.

"The defendants knew that the residents of Shepherd's Care Millwoods were among the most vulnerable in the population of contracting severe to fatal symptoms."

The lawsuit has yet to be certified as a class action. Statements of claim contain allegations not proven in court and the foundation has confirmed that it will contest the suit.

Outbreak declared in September

The outbreak at the Shepherd's Care facility was declared on Sept. 25. Since then, more than 101 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the outbreak.

A total of 63 residents and 47 staff have tested positive for COVID-19. There are currently two active COVID-19 among residents.

Thirteen residents have died.

The statement of claim details more than 20 alleged breaches of care, including that the care home failed to ensure adequate staffing was in place, failed to properly segregate residents and did not conduct regular COVID-19 testing.

It also alleges the operator failed to properly train staff and sanitize the facility, and that it failed to manage possible exposure from visitors or staff employed at other facilities.

The statement of claim also alleges that residents and their families were not warned about the outbreak among residents and in some cases, failed to inform families that a loved one had tested positive.

Larson, the representative plaintiff, is the daughter of a woman who became infected with COVID-19 in September and died last month from complications.

"There were inadequate, if any, measures taken by the defendants to prevent the plaintiff's mother from becoming infected with COVID-19," the statement of claim says.

The statement of claim says Larson is suing on behalf of herself and any current and former residents who became infected with COVID-19 while living at Shepherd's Care Millwoods, as well as any spouses, partners or children of residents who got sick or died.

The statement of claim says the residents and their families deserve compensation for the pain and suffering caused by either the virus itself or the loss of loved ones to the illness.

Lawyer Rick Mallett, who is leading the case for the plaintiffs, said families want accountability.

"What we saw here was a situation where the outbreak spread really fast compared to some situations," Mallett said Monday. "In less than six weeks or so, you went from almost no cases to over 100. And that was the primary concern."

'The first thing you hear is the grief'

Families involved in the suit are sad, angry and desperate for answers about how the outbreak spread, he said.

"The first thing you hear is the grief and the tremendous emotion, the difficulty in losing someone and not being able to be with them, as you'd like to be during their last moments.

"And then it turns to, 'Why did this happen? Why was this so different?' I think that's the question that we're hearing a lot."

Mallett expects the class action will be certified sometime early next year. All residents who got sick and the family members of those who have died are automatically included.

Mallett said he hopes the lawsuit provides residents and their families some closure and ensures that any shortfalls in care are addressed for the residents who remain.

"Sometimes it seems like it's all about the money and it's all about the lawyers. And I guess that's a part of it, but a lot of it is really just some accountability and transparency, just trying to figure out what happened and trying to prevent it from happening to anybody else.

"There's such a real level of emotional shock and trauma that people go through and I think it's, you know, doubled or tripled from what it might ordinarily be.

"So I think it's really a situation of people saying, 'How do we stop this from happening again, and what can we do?' And I think a lot of the families are of that mindset."

Foundation to defend itself 'vigorously'

In a statement to CBC News, Shepherd's Care said it has continued to provide "quality care" to residents and will "vigorously" defend the proposed class action.

The foundation said its response to the pandemic included investing more than $4 million in additional staffing, PPE, and other protective measures.

"We are reviewing the particulars of the lawsuit," Shepherd's Care president Shawn Terlson said in the statement.

"As this matter is now before the courts, we will not be able to speak to the specifics of it.

"However, we can say with confidence that we will approach this situation with compassion and respect."