Court approves seniors class action against Alberta over long-term care fees

The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled a class-action lawsuit can proceed against the province over the fees it charges seniors in long-term care.

EDMONTON — The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled a class-action lawsuit can proceed against the province over the fees it charges seniors in long-term care.

The lawsuit was filed by the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society after the government increased rates at nursing homes in 2003 by 40 per cent. There have been subsequent increases.

The court on Friday turned down the government’s attempt to block the class action.

“We won big and we are extremely pleased,” said Ruth Adria, the society’s executive director. “Now the lawsuit can go forward.”

The society claims the government overcharged about 14,000 seniors by more than $128 million over a two-year period. Other allegations include breach of contract and discrimination under the Charter of Rights.

The average age of seniors involved in the lawsuit is 85. They all live in nursing homes or auxiliary hospitals and are incapable of caring for themselves.

The government wasn’t saying much about the Appeal Court ruling.

“At this point, the government’s lawyers are reviewing the decision and since this matter is still before the courts, it really is not appropriate to comment at this time,” said Alberta Justice spokesman Andy Weiler.

In a news release issued June 17, 2003, the Alberta government announced that accommodation rates in long-term care homes would rise to “improve the quality of resident care and services.” It noted rates hadn’t risen since 1994.

The association representing long-term care facilities said at the time that rent increases were needed to cover the rising cost of food, linen service and maintenance.

The lawsuit contends that Alberta is charging seniors more than the actual cost of room and board in long-term care.

Statements of claim contain allegations that have not been proven in court.

Allan Garber, the society’s lawyer, said it’s hoped the government will settle the claim before it proceeds to Court of Queen’s Bench.

Garber would not say just how much money the group is seeking from the province.

The lawsuit is keeping the government accountable for its obligations to seniors under the Hospitals Act and the Nursing Homes Act, he said. Since the lawsuit was filed, regional health authorities have been rolled into one superboard called Alberta Health Services.

“We are seeking damages to recover monies that were paid that should not have been paid,” Garber said.

“Many of these people suffer from dementia. They are a weak and vulnerable group in our society. That’s who stands to benefit. We are asking the government to follow its own laws.”

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