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‘Stolen Time’ doc shows grim reality in some long-term care homes

Posted: March 28, 2024

(March 27, 2024) Doreen Nicoll, Rabble

Extendicare, Revera Inc and Sienna Senior Living are thriving long-term care (LTC) corporations.

Extendicare claims they are, “Helping people live better, one life at a time.” While Revera wants seniors to know, “Some things get better with age.” Sienna Senior Living claims to be, “Cultivating happiness in daily life.” And, they apparently do this while still generating really quite sizable profits from the homes they operate.

In 2019, Extendicare earned $1.1 billion in revenue. Total earnings were $91 million. Cash dividends totalled $42 million.

Revera’s profits are reported to be approximately $25 billion annually.

Sienna Senior Living’s total adjusted revenue for the year ending December 31, 2023 was $816.7 million up $79 million over the previous year.

Melissa Miller, Personal Injury Lawyer and partner with the firm Howie, Sacks and Henry, wants to know why these obscenely profitable long-term care facilities lock up incontinence products, serve unpalatable – and, often unidentifiable — food and routinely have dangerously low staffing?

Stolen Time, is writer-director Helene Klodawsky’s compelling documentary that follows Miller as she takes on the corporate for-profit nursing-home industry notorious for its lack of transparency and accountability.

Certified in Elder Law, this is Miller’s most challenging case yet – a mass tort (class action) against some of the world’s most powerful long-term care corporations who stand accused of neglecting the very people they are paid to care for.

Klodawsky includes the voices of families, frontline caregivers and change-makers as she lays bare the truth behind this industrial complex of death that is driven by one goal – to make a profit.

Laura discusses the ‘chemical straight jacket’ that caused her father’s early death. ‘Chemical straight jacket’ is the term used for medical sedation which makes residents much more malleable and that means they need less attention from overworked staff.

As the name indicates, the elder is sedated to the point of appearing comatose and virtually unable to move. Eventually, they stop eating and drinking which accelerates their premature death.

In fact, the most common complaints in these ageist, anti-disability facilities are serious dehydration, malnutrition, injuries, misdiagnosis, skin and wound care and systemic, chronic understaffing.

Miller maintains that these conditions exist because it is status quo and families have been kept in the dark. Success for her would be putting an end to business as usual.

Since 2018, Miller has been suing some of the largest for-profit nursing home corporations in Canada and around the world.

During a peaceful protest in front of Queen’s Park, a demonstrator mentions he had a family member who died at Orchard Villa, in Pickering, Ontario.

It is important to paint a fuller picture of what happened at the 233-bed long-term care facility owned by Southbridge who subcontracted operations to Extendicare.

In April 2020 the Ford government sent the military into Orchard Villa. That exposed horrific conditions including residents lying on mattresses on the floor; a lack of hygiene, unsafe infection control and medication practices, and inadequately trained staff.

They also found cockroaches and flies, rotten food, residents in soiled diapers, residents without access to hydration and improper feeding among other highly problematic issues like oxygen generators without oxygen.

The military reported systemic issues that could be directly tied back to inadequate staffing and chronic underfunding.

That finding did not surprise family members who testified before the COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission detailing dangerously low levels of staffing on a regular basis that led to chronic neglect of residents long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claims made by the military and family members were backed up by a documented history of chronic non-compliance. In fact, Orchard Villa continues to be cited for poor care in a litany of inspection reports that describe many of the same issues exposed by the military.

Eventually, the local hospital took over management of Orchard Villa. The remaining residents were taken to hospital where it was determined that they were severely dehydrated, anorexic, and some in kidney failure. A hospital spokesperson reported that Orchard Villa had only 20 per cent of the necessary staff on duty.

The fallout from this horrific tragedy should fall squarely on the shoulders of Extendicare and Southbridge executives who created and implemented policies that failed to provide the necessities of life.

But instead of holding executives accountable, the Ford government recently issued Orchard Villa a new 30-year licence and 87-bed expansion.

Private investigator, Brett Rigby, states in the film, “There’s essentially no regulatory oversight and no repercussions at all for the complete systemic failure across all the companies while they bring in record profits.”

In fact, by June 2020 governments across North America began passing legislation protecting these corporations from lawsuits. That fall, the Ford government passed Bill 218, Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act, shielding for-profit LTC home operators from lawsuits for negligence. That meant families who had filed lawsuits for negligence then had to file lawsuits for gross negligence which requires a higher burden of proof.

That should not come as a surprise given the fact that these corporations back powerful government lobby groups including the Ontario LTC Association which lobbied for immunity for LTC during COVID.

Ryan is the son of an LTC resident. In the film he says his mother fell after having a mild stroke. His mother broke a bone in her neck and three bones in her arm. Ryan’s mother was left in bed for six days and was given only Tylenol for the pain.

This abhorrent elder abuse continues because when held accountable, the operators simply pay traumatized family members. That money, however, is paid by the corporation’s insurance company. At the end of the day, those insurance companies may in fact be the agents pushing for changes in this broken system.

However, those insurance companies are not going down without a fight. Family members who sue are questioned by insurance company lawyers during depositions and aggressively cross-examined on the witness stand regarding their role and responsibility.

There’s also the additional threat that the LTC corporation may actually sue family members for not doing their due diligence which is a thinly veiled attempt to bully families into withdrawing their cases.

Add to that the fact that hospitals do not have to report a ‘medical facility’ – aka LTC home – for improper care or elder abuse when it comes to their attention.

This part of the healthcare system should never have been privatized. Because when shareholders and investment banks expect LTC corporations to generate income in amounts large enough to satisfy everyone’s greed, something has to give – and that is the basic standard of care that residents and their families expect to receive in return for their monthly payments.

Conservative Premier Mike Harris is responsible for the privatization of LTC. Harris also set himself up to receive millions in cash and shares for serving as Chair of the Board for Chartwell Retirement Residences since 2004.

Chartwell Homes describes itself as an “open-ended real estate trust which indirectly owns and operates a complete range of seniors housing communities, from independent supportive living through assisted living to long term care. It is the largest operator in the Canadian seniors living sector with over 200 quality retirement communities in four provinces, including properties under development.”

Harris and his third wife, Laura, started the for-profit home-care franchise, Nurse-Next-Door, in 2012.

Harris is also vice president of LTC Operations at Extendicare.

The entire LTC system is an exercise in maximizing assets from investment funds generated from housing – which is a human right. The industry is becoming increasingly incestuous as this excerpt from Inori Roy’s article for the Ontario Health Coalition, The Private Deals Remaking Long-Term Care (March 2023), shows:

“In March 2022, the publicly traded long-term care provider Extendicare announced an agreement to buy competitor Revera’s shares in 18 long-term care homes, and manage the remaining 31 Revera-owned homes. Extendicare also announced that it would partner with Axium Infrastructure Inc., a Montreal-based investment management company that owns 85 per cent of the remaining interest, to redevelop the Revera homes in question.”

Essentially, we have enabled publicly traded corporations to make indecent amounts of profit without having any expertise in the provision of care.

Revera is a bit different. It is a Canadian company that owns LTC homes in the US and Britain. Since 2007 it has been owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board – a Federal Crown Corporation with over 160,000 members made up of all civil servants and some members of the military.

As Miller points out, Revera is exploiting seniors to grow a government pension fund. While elders languish, public money is being funnelled into real estate instead of being used to provide care.

The lack of transparency – the Public Sector Pension Investment Board does not have to disclose its profits – and accountability has created a system that was destined to fail.

Stolen Time also examines the ghettoization of Black and Brown labour in LTC which writer and anti-Black racism teacher, Rai Reece, notes is facilitated by governmental policies.

Please make the time to watch Stolen Time which lays bare the corrupt industry of warehousing elders, looks inside a mass action lawsuit and provides hope through the emerging elder justice movement.

Stolen Time by Helene Klodawsky (85 min)
Produced by Ina Fichman for Intuitive Pictures Inc.; Ariel Nasr for the NFB.

Screening Tuesday, April 2, and Wednesday, April 3, at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto

  • Presented as part of Doc Soup, a screening series from Hot Docs.
  • Filmmaker Helene Klodawsky and elder rights lawyer Melissa Miller will be in attendance, with a Q&A on both nights.
  • Doc Soup will also be streaming Stolen Time online for subscribers.

More info:

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