Quebec’s COVID-19 Response in Care Homes: Lawsuit Alleges Delayed Preparation Resulting in Tragic Deaths

The failure of the Quebec government to adhere to its pandemic-response plan during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in avoidable deaths in long-term care facilities, according to Montreal lawyer Patrick Martin-Ménard. On Monday, Martin-Ménard sought permission from a judge to pursue a class-action lawsuit against the provincial government, representing all residents of public long-term care homes affected by COVID-19 outbreaks in the first two waves, as well as the families of those who died. He argued that by neglecting to implement the existing plan in January 2020, the Quebec government and health authorities failed in their duty of care towards residents.

Martin-Ménard highlighted that a pandemic-response plan had been in place since 2006, setting guidelines for preparing the public health system for a pandemic and protecting vulnerable populations. The lawyer contended that if this plan had been activated, the outbreaks witnessed in long-term care facilities could have been avoided. Over 5,000 deaths occurred in Quebec’s long-term care centers between March 2020 and March 2021.

According to Martin-Ménard, Quebec’s pandemic-response plan mandated the government to issue an alert to healthcare facilities when a new virus is confirmed to be spreading from animals to humans. COVID-19 met this criteria by January 6, 2020, but the province failed to issue the alert. The government only started preparing for the pandemic at the end of February, just two days before the first cases were discovered in the province. The plan also required Quebec to implement infection prevention and control measures and identify the most vulnerable residents.

Martin-Ménard asserted that Quebec’s initial directives to the healthcare system did not include long-term care centers or vulnerable individuals. It wasn’t until the end of March that a specific plan was issued to protect these centers, causing a significant delay in preparation and resulting in disastrous consequences. Rather than following the plan, the government improvised by transferring patients from hospitals to long-term care centers to free up hospital beds. However, the centers were ill-prepared to accommodate the additional patients and care for residents after family visitations were banned.

Martin-Ménard provided an example of a woman who relied on visits from her daughter to assist with eating and died shortly after visitations were prohibited. Furthermore, the government limited long-term care patients’ access to hospitals for COVID-19 treatment without considering if the centers had the capacity to handle such cases. These actions had severe consequences, not only for those who contracted COVID-19 but also for individuals who suffered from a lack of care.

Jean-Pierre Daubois, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, recounted that his mother received insufficient care. Anna Jose Maquet, 94, died at the Ste-Dorothée long-term care center in Laval, Quebec in April 2020. Although Maquet had an eye disorder related to aging and required assistance with mobility, she was otherwise healthy. Daubois disclosed that his mother choked while drinking water and was put on a respiratory distress protocol within three hours, leading to her death. The lawsuit alleges that Maquet was under the care of an unlicensed nursing candidate who administered treatments she was not qualified to perform.

Daubois stressed the need for the Quebec government to be held accountable for its lack of preparation and perceived incompetence. Martin-Ménard estimated that the class-action lawsuit could potentially involve over 10,000 individuals, with compensation sought in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Quebec government declined to comment on the case, and arguments from lawyers representing Quebec’s healthcare establishments and the province’s attorney general are scheduled for later in the week.


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