A $40-million class-action lawsuit against Ontario’s worst-hit nursing home alleges that the facility’s actions were “callous and arrogant” and its negligence led to its mass and deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

The lawsuit was filed at the Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday against Southbridge Care Homes and its 308-bed Orchard Villa long-term care and retirement home, where the novel coronavirus has infected at least 96 staff and 225 residents and killed at least 77 people.

The 24-page document starts with Orchard Villa’s history of violations recorded in Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care’s inspection reports dating back to 2015, when Southbridge Care Homes first purchased and began operating the former family-owned nursing home. 

“The serious complaints concerned pronounced shortages of staff which were impacting the care of residents, abuse and neglect of residents, shortage of linens and continent supplies among other serious deficiencies,” the lawsuit’s lead lawyer Gary Will said.

“Orchard Villa was not prepared for the outbreak of COVID-19 and did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to prevent the spread.”

The claim makes damning accusations against the home and how it allegedly failed to follow provincial guidelines to keep residents and staff safe against COVID-19, resulting in deaths and the mass spread of the disease. 

“The stories of what occurred at Orchard Villa over the past two months are shocking and heartbreaking,” Will said in a statement. “This tragedy did not need to happen and should never be allowed to happen in the future.” 

Toronto law firm Will Davidson LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of all residents and family members of Orchard Villa, and the class-action’s representative plaintiff Sylvia Lyon, whose 80-year-old mother died of COVID-19 at the home. 

Orchard Villa was among the facilities named in a "gut-wrenching" military report released Tuesday, revealing the grim state of five long-term care facilities grappling with COVID-19.

CTV News Toronto has reached out to the home and its parent company about the allegations, which have not been tested or proven in court, but have not yet received a response.

Orchard Villa

Lawsuit alleges Orchard Villa failed to keep residents safe

The lawsuit chronicles COVID-19’s spread in Ontario, and the governmental responses that followed, including various emergency measures limiting gatherings and shutting down businesses. 

The claim alleges Orchard Villa did not take heed of the provincial measures. While Ontario prohibited gatherings of more than five people, the home allegedly “continued to permit residents to routinely sit together in the dining rooms for three meals per day.” 

While the home declared a COVID-19 outbreak on April 9, Orchard Villa allegedly did not confine all residents to their rooms, including for meals, until April 14. 

The lawsuit alleges that while many long-term care homes vigorously closed their doors to outsiders, Orchard Villa allegedly permitted family members to deliver laundry to residents in some wings of the home. 

The statement of claim alleges that Orchard Villa also failed to provide “adequate or proper personal protective equipment in a timely manner.” It alleges that the home “repeatedly” directed staff to use the “same personal protective equipment – despite contamination.”

Orchard Villa

In addition to dealing with a deadly disease, the lawsuit alleges that staff shortages were leaving residents with “inadequate care in respect of basic necessities, such as bathing and maintaining catheters.”

“As a result, residents suffered from urinary tract infections, dehydration, and other related physical ailments, resulting in hospitalizations and/or deaths,” the document alleges. 

“Throughout this period, Orchard Villa continued to contact families of residents with automated phone messages, re-assuring them that Orchard Villa had the situation under control.”

The claim alleges that families were provided with “inaccurate or incomplete” information and the home failed to report that deaths had occurred as a result of COVID-19. Families first learned from media reports, allegedly, that 31 people had died at the home due to the disease. 

“The plaintiff states that the defendants failed to correct their behaviour, despite instructions, directions, and compliance orders from the Ministry of Long-Term Care.” 

According to the claim: “A persistent lack of resources, staffing, and protocols and/or adherence to such protocols rendered the infiltration of COVID-19 into Orchard Villa inevitable” and “The defendants’ actions were callous and arrogant and offend the ordinary community standards of moral and decent conduct.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the home failed to comply with provincial directives to prevent infection spread among staff and residents. 

“They failed to institute reasonable measures to prevent COVID-19 from infecting residents of Orchard Villa, such as undertaking proper screening of visitors and practicing social distancing,” the document alleges.

“They failed to employ and properly train competent staff on proper, safe and adequate measures for preventing COVID-19 from infecting residents and staff of Orchard Villa.”

Orchard Villa

The story of Ursula Drehlich

Sylvia Lyon’s late mother Ursula Drehlich was confined to a wheelchair and was deaf. She had lived at Orchard Villa since October 2013 and was paying a monthly fee of approximately $2,474.40 for care and residency. 

The claim said that Lyon regularly visited her mother at the home and noticed “distinct changes in the level of care” after July 2015 when the home was purchased by Southbridge. 

The claim alleges that from March 11 until April 11, Ursula Drehlich “moved freely throughout Orchard Villa” before she was confined to her room.

The claim further alleges that she was cared for by staff who allegedly had “improper or inadequate personal protective equipment, which had been contaminated by repeated usage.”

Drehlich tested positive for COVID-19 on April 21, and she passed away two days later. 

“My mother Ursula was a good, decent individual who had overcome many obstacles in her life. We entrusted her care to the owners of Orchard Villa,” Lyon said in a statement.

“I consider it my duty to my mother to push for an investigation of this tragedy. Those that are responsible for this state of affairs must take responsibility and be held accountable.

“Orchard Villa received over $11 million in funding each and every year from the Ontario government. Yet each year the care provided was less and less.”