Court challenge filed against Orchard Villa Pickering LTC expansion where 85 patients died

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Published February 14, 2024 at 11:40 am

Orchard Villa long term care

A court challenge has been filed against the Ontario government’s decision to expand a long-term care facility where 85 patients died due to mismanagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pickering’s Orchard Villa saw some of the worst pandemic conditions among Ontario LTC facilities, losing 37 per cent of its 235 residents over the pandemic. This is a much higher rate than the provincial average. The Ontario Health Coalition found that the province-wide average was 5.2 deaths per 100 beds in for-profit homes, 2.8 in 100 in non-profit homes and 1.35 in 100 in public homes during the first two waves.

More than 70 of the Orchard Villa residents died directly of COVID-19, but still others were lost to negligence, dehydration and starvation. In one case a resident choked to death because staff fed them improperly. Across the board Southbridge, which operates Orchard Villa and 37 other LTC facilities in Ontario, lost nine per cent of its residents, the highest rate of any for-profit chain.

Though the provincial government promised an “iron ring” around LTC early in the pandemic, the state of Orchard Villa and four other homes across Ontario got so bad the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Red Cross were called in to support the staff.

The CAF later released a scathing report about the homes finding cockroach infestations, food left out to rot, residents left for extended periods in soiled diapers, unaddressed serious injuries like a broken hip and unsafe medication distribution.

Despite the “stories of horror” from families of Orchard Villa, the facility remains open and operational. Southbridge later requested a 30-year license extension and a 15-storey addition that would house 320 more beds at the facility.

This prompted significant public outcry from the families who lost loved ones at Orchard Villa, including protests at Queen’s Park and lobbying Pickering City Council. Ultimately, Pickering voted to condemn Southbridge’s proposal, but the Ontario government issued the Minister’s Zone Order (MZO) anyway.

Opposition leaders such as then-NDP leader Peter Tabuns, LTC critic Wayne Gates and Oshawa MPP Jennifer French accused the Ontario government of rewarding “bad actors.” In an open letter they wrote, “While the revelations in these reports were shocking to many Ontarians, multiple family members of residents told media that they were not surprised. Before the pandemic, Orchard Villa had a Level 3 compliance history, the second-worst designation the ministry assigns to long-term care homes.”

Now, Cathy Parkes, a woman who lost her father Paul to Orchard Villa, has filed for a judicial review of the proposed expansion to ensure it complies with the Ford government’s own Fixing Long-Term Care Act. Parkes had previously led delegations to Pickering council to reject the MZO.

This act requires the government 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.”

“Long-term care homes with repeated failures do not deserve a free pass,” Parkes said, “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.”

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