Proposed Northwood lawsuit expanded to seek damages from N.S. government
HALIFAX -- A proposed class-action lawsuit launched earlier this month against a long-term care home in Halifax has now expanded to include claims against Nova Scotia's provincial government.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of families whose loved ones died of COVID-19 at Northwood, the largest long-term care facility east of Montreal.
Fifty-three residents have died of the virus at Northwood since the start of the pandemic, making up the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the province. The facility currently has no more active cases.
In court documents filed Tuesday, the families allege the province failed to ensure the safe operation of the facility, both before and after the outbreak.
The lawyer representing the families says the decision to add the provincial government to the court action was made after Northwood officials made public statements regarding efforts to engage the province in discussions to improve conditions at the home.
"Their board of directors had been reaching out to the province and saying, 'Look, we need to change this facility, it's overcrowded, we have some problems with staffing' … and other issues, and the province had not been responding to that, as I understand it, for a number of years," says Ray Wagner.
Earlier this month, Northwood's chief executive, Janet Simm, said her board had gone to the provincial government looking to create 100 private rooms at the facility. She also said the home requested more than $12.5 million to add three floors on top of Northwood's existing apartment tower.
On June 3, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil acknowledged there had been ongoing talks with the facility about the issue before the pandemic hit.
"Prior to the virus, there had been ongoing conversations around the very thing that you're referring to, which is single rooms in the facility," the premier said during the provincial COVID-19 briefing that day.
In light of that, says Wagner, "it became incumbent upon us to add the province (to the lawsuit), because that relates to a whole host of issues."
Court documents filed in the proposed class action Tuesday allege the provincial government started cutting funding to Northwood around 2016, "without apparent justification and notwithstanding ongoing need."
The documents also say government "rejected repeated capital funding requests to build additional private rooms" for residents.
The proposed suit also alleges the province carried out an inspection of Northwood at the beginning of December 2019 to assess compliance with provincial licensing requirements.
The court documents state, "Although 14 issues were identified regarding non-compliance with licensing requirements, the Province chose to license and accredit the operation of the long-term care facility."
Once the pandemic began, the suit alleges the province didn't act quickly enough to prevent or contain the outbreak.
None of the allegations in the proposed lawsuit have been tested in court.
Gary MacLeod was glad to hear the proposed class action is expanding to include the provincial government. As a member of Advocates for the Care of the Elderly, or ACE, MacLeod has been fighting for improved funding and staffing for senior care facilities in the province for 14 years.
"There was plenty of gaps in the system over the years," he says. "And a lot of it was due to people not paying attention to advocates who saw the gaps."
While he hopes the lawsuit will answer the many questions he and other elder advocates have about what happened at Northwood, MacLeod wishes the deadly outbreak hadn't happened.
"It's unfortunate that we have to go through this because of all the deaths," he says. "But it's really going to uncover a lot of the failures of the government that the ACE team has been trying to point out for a number of years."
Officials with the Department of Health and the Office of the Premier declined CTV News' requests for interviews, saying no comment could be made because the matter is before the courts. Officials at Northwood also did not respond to a request for an interview and further information.
The province does not have to officially respond to the proposed class action or file its defence until it becomes certified by the courts, which hasn't happened yet.
Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservative critic for long-term care, Barbara Adams, says the families need answers.
"Had the premier initially called for an inquiry and brought in the families and staff and said, 'What's going on here?', we might have avoided this step," says Adams.
Wagner says the families represented in the proposed class action hope changes will be made to the province's long-term care system as a result of filing the proposed suit.