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Health advocates asking judge to quash licence renewal for Pickering’s Orchard Villa

Posted: February 14, 2024

(February 13, 2024) Durham Radio News

Advocates and family members are asking for a judge’s opinion on whether Pickering’s Orchard Villa residence should have received a licence extension by the province.

The Ontario Health Coalition announced the legal action Tuesday. The group is seeking a judicial review of the matter, noting alleged health violations and the deaths of residents during the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Ministry [of Municipal Affairs and Housing] has approved a new build for Southbridge Care in Pickering in contradiction to its own legislation,” said Cathy Parkes, whose father Paul died at the home in April 2020, in a release on Tuesday. “Long-term care homes with repeated failures do not deserve a free pass. After the deaths of so many loved ones, including my father, and the continued failures detailed in incident reports, Southbridge care should not have received the award of extra beds and a 30-year license for Orchard Villa. Ontarians deserve to know that care is the primary focus of long-term care.”

The Orchard Villa property includes a long-term care home and retirement home.

The owner, Southbridge Care Homes, is looking to demolish the 233-bed long-term care facility and build a successor on the same property. The new long-term care home would be 15 floors high, and hold as many as 320 beds.

The government approved the operator’s request, granting them a new long-term care home licence for up to 30 years. Protestors had rallied against the licence renewal request in 2021.

In 2023, Pickering council opted not to support Southbridge when it asked the government for a powerful Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO). Despite this, then-Housing Minister Steve Clark issued an MZO for the site, cutting red tape and speeding it up.

“The Ford government promised accountability but is doing the opposite,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, in a release on Tuesday. “A massive expansion and a new 30-year license is absolutely not in the public interest.”

“Under the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, the government is required to ensure that the past conduct of long-term care home owners offers reasonable grounds to believe that the home will not be operated in a manner that is prejudicial to the health, safety and welfare of its residents,” argued the coalition.

Orchard Villa was the site of a massive COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020. At least 78 deaths have been linked to the first wave alone.

That April, the home was one of five, in Ontario, that the Canadian Armed Forces were brought in to inspect. The military would eventually release a damning report, alleging severe health violations and staffing shortages. The report describes the presence of flies and cockroaches, as well as residents being left in soiled undergarments and left to sleep on bare mattresses. During one incident, a patient allegedly died while choking on a piece of food; they had not been been sat up properly for their meal.

On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford was asked about Orchard Villa.

“I acknowledge it was a tough time throughout COVID, not only here but around the world,” said Premier Doug Ford. “But we have corrected those problems. We’re going to continue improving the processes in all long-term care homes. People are now going to able to live and call it home in brand-new facilities all over Ontario.”

“We’re going to continue to build,” he said, citing population growth.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing gave similar reasons in a statement to Durham Radio News.

“The people of Pickering deserve a new, modern long-term care home, where currently hundreds of people are waiting for care,” wrote Daniel Strauss, a spokesperson for Long-Term Care Minister Stan Cho. “Our government believes in building Ontario’s long-term care capacity, not reducing it. To do this, we have invested a historic $6.4 billion to build 58,000 new and upgraded long-term care spaces. It was our government that brought in the most robust safety requirements in North America in the Fixing Long-Term Care Act. All proposed license extensions must undergo a rigorous undertaking process to show they can meet these new high standards, as is the case with the proposed Pickering development.”

You can read the Ontario Health Coalition’s court filing by clicking here.

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