'It can’t be for nothing': Daughter of Northwood resident wants answers after mother's COVID-19 death
HALIFAX -- Erica Surette is looking for answers to some very painful questions.
She wants to know how her 66-year-old mother contracted COVID-19 and passed away at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax.
"Mom was nowhere near her time,” said Surette.
"She would still call me and say, ‘Let's go to the mall, I need to go get something at Reitmans, let's go for lunch or let's go for a drive,’ and that I don't have that anymore. That's not fair."
Patricia West moved into Northwood in 2017, after being diagnosed with early onset dementia. Surette says her mother was moved from a single room to a shared room in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
West tested positive for the virus on Easter weekend and died on April 22.
"Throughout all of this, everything that we've been told is, everyone is doing the best they can and they're taking the appropriate steps and appropriate measures are in place and my mom and all these other families, they're still gone, so something went off the rails somewhere,” said Surette.
This week, a proposed class-action lawsuit was filed with the courts. Erica Surette is the lead plaintiff. She says she wants answers and accountability in her mother’s death.
"Her death and all the other residents who have passed, all the other families who have lost loved ones, it can't be for nothing."
Lawyer Ray Wagner says Northwood knew the virus was coming and the impact it was having on long-term care homes.
"It seems that New Brunswick was prepared. It seems that P.E.I. was prepared. And it seems that a lot of the private facilities were prepared. But Northwood wasn't,” he said.
To date, 53 residents have died from COVID-19 at Northwood, making it one of the hardest hit long-term care homes in the country.
The lawsuit alleges that Northwood Halifax’s practices, policies, and procedures, and lack thereof, caused the viral spread of COVID-19 through elderly and vulnerable residents, as well as staff, causing untimely death to residents, and harms, losses, and damages to their surviving family members, who make up the proposed class.
It also alleges that Northwood had full knowledge and advance warning of the dangers and health risks posed by a COVID-19 pandemic, and they knew how the rapid spread of infection could be mitigated by maintaining and enforcing physical distancing. Yet, they maintained the status quoat the cost of numerous individuals’ safety and lives, states the court document.
"What happened is very important, not only because it gives answers to people and they can say, ‘I know what happened,’ it's more than that. It is about the answers leading to changes, changes so that we don't have to be looking for answers for a repeat of what happened,” said Wagner.
In addition to the proposed class-action lawsuit, Surette wants to see government call an inquiry into the situation at Northwood.
"We have other long-term care facilities, even here in our province, that have had maybe one case, two cases, zero cases. And there are 53 deaths at Northwood and you don't think that calls for an inquiry?” she said.
Despite growing calls for an inquiry, Premier Stephen McNeil did not call for one on Wednesday.
He did, however, say government continues to work with Northwood to ensure they eradicate the virus and that there have been ongoing conversations about shared rooms.
"There was a number of conversations between the Department of Health and Northwood and they'll still be ongoing," said McNeil.
Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto, says the COVID-19 virus preys on seniors.
“When we start looking at seniors who are in their 70s, their 80s and 90s, we see death rates of up to eight, 15 and 25 per cent.”
Sinha says we now know that older homes that have multi-bedded rooms are more likely to face outbreaks and have significant death counts.
"That becomes really difficult when people are living in two or three or four people to a room at the same time and we've seen how devastating those consequences can be, especially in older homes” said Sinha.
“When you actually look at the number of people who have passed away at Northwood, many who are living in two-bedded rooms, for example, that's more deaths than have occurred in countries like South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and even Hong Kong. Countries that, frankly, eliminated the development of multi-bedded rooms after SARS.”
The statement of claim has not been proven in court.
The next step in the proposed class-action lawsuit is for it to be certified by a court.
Wagner hopes he will be able to Skype with a judge sometime in the near future to set a date for the hearing.