After suffering a series of major strokes that left her with vascular dementia and the inability to speak, Chilliwack resident Blondine Huebner went through years of home care followed by a move into residential care.
Then, in February 2017, Huebner’s daughter Krista Kilvert moved her 94-year-old mother into the Waverly Seniors Village on Young Road.
What followed was weeks and months of alleged treatment at such a negligent level in the home owned by Retirement Concepts that it destroyed her quality of life and led to an earlier than expected death, according to family members.
Blondine Huebner never recovered from a mysterious head injury she received in August 2017 while living at the Waverly, an injury her children say could only have been the result of an assault.
She died just shy of her 95th birthday on Oct. 24, 2017.
“I will forever be deeply affected by these disturbing events about my mother’s care,” daughter Lorraine Huebner said in an affidavit filed in BC Supreme Court on Feb. 7, 2020. “She never recovered from the trauma of the assault.”
Lorraine’s affidavit is included as part of a class action lawsuit against Retirement Concepts, Cedar Tree Investment Canada, and the B.C. Ministry of Health.
The lawsuit filed by Victoria lawyer Patrick Dudding alleges that the monetary value of the shortfall in care provided by Retirement Concepts at all its facilities over the last 13 years to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Blondine’s daughters Krista and son Erwin are the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit that makes numerous allegations including emotional, psychological, and psychiatric injury or aggravation; mental distress; physical injury; wrongful death or shortened lifespan; injury to dignity; and more.
Dudding told The Progress the lawsuit does not have a specific dollar figured tied to it, but is about pushing for accountability and change in the industry.
“My clients are 100 per cent committed to deliver lasting and systemic change,” he said last week.
Waverly Seniors Village has faced months of scrutiny due to understaffing leading up to one night on Feb. 14, 2020 when residents complained there was no one on hand to provide medication to residents.
The facility was designated “high risk” by Fraser Health back in December due to repeated inadequacies and an inability to meeting legislative requirement. The health authority, however, said there is no plan to take over the facility despite the fact that other health authorities have done just that with other Retirement Concept facilities in other communities.
“At this time, Fraser Health currently has no plans to appoint an administrator to manage Waverly Seniors Village,” a spokesperson said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and work with Waverly Seniors Village to ensure residents are receiving the proper care.”
Retirement Concepts is owned by a Chinese holding company, Anbang Insurance Group, which itself was taken over by the Chinese government in February 2018. In Chilliwack, they also run Auburn Seniors Residence next to Waverly, but they also own homes in Coquitlam, Surrey, Langley, Maple Ridge, White Rock, Vancouver, and in the interior and on Vancouver Island.
The class action lawsuit has not yet been certified, but includes all persons who were resident in care homes owned or operated by Retirement Concepts or predecessor entities at any time from Nov. 26, 2002 until today, and all family members of those residents.
As part of the lawsuit, Dudding hired consulting economist Robert Wickson to calculate the dollar value of the shortfall of care Retirement Concepts provided.
Given the chronic understaffing at the company’s facilities, which both the plaintiffs and BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie attribute to significantly lower than market wages, the company has been unable to meet hours per resident day (HPRD) standards required by the B.C. government. The economist made an estimate using a calculation based on the value of daily shortfall in care provided per resident, times 365.25 days per year, times the average number of beds Retirement Concepts operates.
“[W]e calculate the value of the shortfall in the care provided by Retirement Concepts to be about $187,200 per bed [from Oct. 1, 2007 to the present] or $368,707,000.”
Dudding said the lawsuit is not seeking a specific dollar amount for damages, but various types of damages are sought, including for loss of dignity and violation of human rights as well as general, special and punitive.
“There is not a specific dollar figure at this point in time,” Dudding said.
“Having someone write a cheque often will send a message, not only to that provider, but also to everyone in the industry that this is not going to be acceptable. But it’s really about behavioural change. When we are talking about a group of frail and vulnerable members of our population, it’s about change. That is really the key goal.”
As for Retirement Concepts, the chief operating officer for West Coast Seniors Housing Management, which operates the Waverly for the company, said the staffing shortage issue is systemic in the industry.
“There is in fact a staffing crisis in the seniors care sector in this province, and as the largest provider, certainly it impacts us,” Jennie Deneka said in an emailed response, pointing to a press release from October 2019 from the BC Care Providers that stated as much.
BC Seniors Advocate, however, calls this a “manufactured crisis.”
“Many operators are able to get sufficient staff,” Isobel Mackenzie told The Progress in a Feb. 21 interview. “The industry association … manufactures a crisis that is really about their financial interest. The financial interest of the private sector industry is to be able to hire people, and because we let them keep whatever money they don’t spend, their incentive is to pay the least amount possible.”
|As part of a class action lawsuit against Retirement Concepts filed in BC Supreme Court in February 2020, Judy Anderson included this photo of her (at right) and her mother Jean Spencer that shows where someone has put pinholes in her eyes in the photograph. (Submitted)
Anderson said one care aide who was disrespectful, would not attend to her mother, but when she was complained about to management, nothing was done. In addition to outlining numerous instances of poor care, Anderson reported receiving constant abuse from some staff. She even included in her affidavit a photo of her and her mother that was posted on her mother’s wall where someone had made pin holes in her eyes.
The lawsuit filed against Retirement Concepts and the Ministry of Health is a sprawling 3,907-page document including affidavits from the dozens of people Dudding spoke to. That includes former employees and families of residents.
Blondine Huebner’s daughter Lorraine is one of the rare people who falls into both those categories. Lorraine’s mother lived at the Waverly and Lorraine was the recreation manager from 2005 and 2019 when she quit.
“After all my years working for Waverly, and seeing how they now function – putting profits over people – I feel embarrassed to say I worked for them,” Lorraine said in her affidavit.
“In my observation, there was a time that the Waverly had and deserved a very good reputation in the community, but that is no longer the case.”
Dudding said the provincial government has responded so far with an application to strike the claim against the province. Their argument is that the responsibility lies either with the regional health authorities in question, Retirement Concepts, and/or – “strangely” to Dudding – the class members themselves who should have been more diligent in choosing a care home.
Retirement Concepts has not yet formally responded to the claim.
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