Class-action suit in works against Retirement Concepts

VANCOUVER — Lawyers preparing a class-action lawsuit against Retirement Concepts and others based on alleged mistreatment, neglect and abuse of a resident at a Fraser Valley care home are meeting with families of residents at company facilities on Vancouver Island that have been taken over by health authorities.

A civil claim was filed in May 2018 by the children of Blondine Huebner, a deceased former resident of Waverly Seniors Village in Chilliwack, which is owned and operated by Retirement Concepts. It names Retirements Concepts and also PR Seniors Housing Management Ltd., Cedar Tree Investment Canada Inc. and the B.C. Ministry of Health.

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A notice of application for a class-action suit was filed last month, naming the same defendants. PR Seniors Housing Management is now known as West Coast Seniors Housing Management and operates the retirement and care facilities owned by Retirement Concepts.

Anbang Insurance Group, a once high-flying, but now restructured and renamed Beijing-based company, bought Retirement Concepts and its 20 seniors care homes in a $1 billion-plus deal in 2017, using its wholly-owned subsidiary, Vancouver-based Cedar Tree Investment Canada. The deal, which was approved by Ottawa, drew criticism from those who argued patient care could be harmed under a foreign company that revealed little about who actually owned it, which is required by federal investment rules.

The law firm said “the plaintiffs brought this lawsuit on behalf of all persons who were residents in care homes owned and operated by Retirement Concepts after November 26, 2002, and on behalf of the spouses, parents and children of these residents.”

That date is years before Anbang and Cedar Tree bought Retirement Concepts in 2017.

“It’s reasonable to commence a class action because there’s a systemic issue at all the facilities operated by Retirement Concepts,” said Rajinder Sahota, a lawyer with Victoria-based firm Acheson, Sweeney, Foley, Sahota.

The firm is working on a schedule for certifying the case, said Sahota. This includes talking to other candidates, but he declined to say who and how many people have been contacted.

“The most important issue is there is a vulnerable population that is being served by an industry that is regulated by the province where a lack of proper enforcement of existing regulations and regulation of entities trusted to deliver services at a trusted level failed to do so.”

Family members of residents who live or lived at Comox Valley Seniors Village and Nanaimo Seniors Village wrote many letters to the Vancouver Island Health Authority before it took over both facilities and also Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria.

Now, some of the family members say they have been meeting with Sahota and other lawyers to find out about providing affidavits for a potential class-action case.

“This could take years, but it would be a tool to bring attention to the problem. Filing complaints to licensing officers is not attacking the root problem” of there being too few staff who are being paid too little, said Delores Broten, whose husband lives at Comox Valley Seniors Village.

The 2018 notice of claim, which has not been proven in court, said the plaintiff’s mother, Huebner, started living at Waverly in February 2017. It alleged staff failed to follow physician’s orders for administering medication, ensuring Huebner’s dentures were inserted so she could eat properly and regularly, and that, in August, she “sustained serious injuries, [including] a black eye, facial swelling, bruises on her left shoulder and arm, as well as a large tear or laceration on her left forearm.”

In March, the province filed a response to the civil claim, saying the other defendants “are not owned or controlled by the province.”

West Coast Seniors Housing Management would not comment.


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