Orchard Villa development gets a emphatic ‘No’ from community, Pickering councillors


Published May 2, 2023 at 11:49 am

The “stories of horror” from Orchard Villa long-term care in Pickering were very personal for Cathy Parkes, an advocate for the families of the 85 residents who died during the pandemic and for those who continue to suffer from inadequate care at the facility.

Parkes, whose father Paul was one of those who died during the first wave of COVID-19, was in the Pickering Council chambers Monday to urge Council to vote no to a request for a Minister’s Zone Order (MZO) for Orchard Villa operator Southbridge to build a 15-storey addition that would house 320 new beds at the facility.

The fact that Orchard Villa is still operating after the numerous reports citing everything from cockroach infestations, food left out to rot, residents left for extended periods in soiled diapers, unaddressed injuries like a broken hip and unsafe medication distribution and even a death of a resident from being fed improperly is shocking to Parkes. The fact that the operators of the facility want to build more beds and expedite the process without any public consultation is even harder to understand, she said.

“My father was just one resident and he was only at Orchard Villa for six months,” she said. “How can the owners receive zoning for more beds and for more profit? This will be 320 more beds for people to die in.”

Parkes was one of four delegations to Council, all asking their elected representatives to tell Queen’s Park they wanted no part in the MZO.

While several delegates as well as councillors accused Southbridge of “arrogance” in the manner in which the development proposal came forward – “to empower a company that has done so much damage is deeply disrespectful,” said one – City staff took umbrage with the Province as well, noting that the request for comment on the MZO arrived just three days before the deadline.

Kyle Bentley, the City’s Chief Development Officer, said they learned of Southbridge’s MZO request in early March and asked the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for a formal letter requesting Pickering’s comments. That letter was never received and instead staff received an email April 24 asking for a response by April 27, a deadline Bentley called “unrealistic and unreasonable.”

Southbridge wants the expedited MZO to build a 15-storey building on the south-west corner of the Valley Farm Road site, followed by several other buildings between 10 and 15 storeys, with some of the units serving as housing for frontline workers working there. The project would bring Orchard Villa’s long-term care bed capacity to 832, along with 670 retirement home units.

The company, which operates 37 long-term care facilities around the province, also wants site plan approvals to be waived so the project is ready for construction by August 31 and open for business by June 2025.

Councillor David Pickles, who proposed the motion to send a ‘no’ message back to the ministry said there was “no evidence” Southgate reached out to the families or to the community with the development proposal. “This is not the process that would normally apply to a planning application,” he said. “We can’t support this. I don’t think there’s any other option but to say no.”

Councillor Maurie Brenner, who seconded the motion, was a little more direct in his comments, saying the proposal from Southbridge was like “ripping off the scab” of the pain the families experienced at the facility.

Brenner urged the community to “bring the heat” to the Province to ensure the proposal is not approved. “This can’t happen. Queen’s Park has to turn it down.”

Opposition MPPs and resident advocacy groups have long accused the Doug Ford government of rewarding “bad actors” – for-profit companies who mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in hundreds of needless deaths.

Meanwhile a $200 million class action lawsuit is still finding its way through the courts, with Southbridge, Orchard Villa and Extendicare, which staffs the facility, named on the documents.

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