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Ontario seniors’ advocates concerned over liability protection in long-term care

Posted: October 23, 2020

(October 22, 2020)

By: Veronica Appia, GuelphMercuryTribune.com

Ontario seniors’ advocates are expressing concerns about protecting the legal rights of those who have been harmed, due to exposure to COVID-19, in long-term-care homes since March.

On Oct. 20, the Ontario government introduced new legislation called Bill 218: Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, which will “provide liability protection for workers, volunteers and organizations that make an honest effort to follow public health guidelines.” This includes homes in the long-term-care sector.

“The proposed legislation would ensure Ontarians, who are contributing to the recovery of our province and make good faith efforts to follow public health guidance and laws on COVID-19, are not discouraged from making a difference in their communities because they are afraid of civil liability,” Ontario attorney general Doug Downey said, regarding the announcement.

Members of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, as well as the Ontario Health Coalition responded, saying this bill, if passed, would make it increasingly difficult for families of loved ones who have suffered after being exposed to or infected with COVID-19 to sue.

The bill would mean the plaintiff would have to prove gross negligence on behalf of the home. The legislation also states that a home will receive protection if it made “an honest effort, whether or not that effort is reasonable.”

As well, because the bill is retroactive to March 17, the advocacy groups note that families who have already begun taking legal action will also be hindered in their processes.

According to the Ontario Health Coalition, there have been at least two dozen legal actions taken in the province due to long-term care conditions, during the first wave of COVID-19.

“No resident or family member who has suffered harm and injury as a result of the negligence of a long-term-care home operator should have their rights to access justice extinguished in this way,” Graham Webb, executive director of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said the groups are hoping for Bill 218 to be defeated.

“Elderly people in long-term care have suffered enormously as a result of negligence, incompetence and indifference by profit-seeking corporations that have engaged in egregious practices while at the same time paying out tens of millions of dollars a month in profits to their shareholders,” she added. “This is morally reprehensible.”

Despite attempts to reach the Ministry of the Attorney General, representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

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