Skip to main content

Calgary parents demand apology, refunds from company connected to E. coli outbreak

Calgary parents whose children became ill from an E. coli outbreak involving 11 local daycares are demanding an apology from the company responsible for cooking and distributing food to the facilities.

All of the daycares were served by a central kitchen operated by Fueling Minds Inc., which is a separate entity but has the exact same directors as Fueling Brains Academy (FBA) daycares, where the food was delivered.

In a letter sent to parents, FBA co-owner Faisal Alimohd described himself as a born Calgarian, father and husband who is "taking the situation seriously" and "committed to making things better."

The lack of an apology, however, isn’t sitting well with parents like Danielle Redwood, whose three-year-old son Abdoulaye spent three days in hospital suffering from an E. coli-related illness.

"How they handled this was inappropriate. You’re messing with two main things – people’s families and their finances… and no apology and no refund?

"I've been looking at other options for childcare, but right now, I really don't have any, so as a single mom, I have one income. It’s hard because my income is driving down and my expenses have gone up."

As of Thursday, AHS reported 329 lab-confirmed case of E. coli and 13 children hospitalized with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

Six of those children remain on dialysis. 

All 11 affected daycares were allowed to re-open Wednesday, but the central kitchen connected to the outbreak remains closed. 

An environmental inspection report of the kitchen found critical violations including an infestation of cockroaches, food handling errors and sanitation issues, as well as two non-critical violations.

Redwood says she may have to wait up to a month to receive the rescind letter, which means her options for childcare are dwindling for all of September. 

"I’ve contacted four daycares already and they’re all full, they have a waitlist and they're not even adding children to the waitlist, there's very limited options."

Other impacted parents like Yuliya Ward are also struggling to maintain a balance with their work schedule.

Ward says she’s still not sure if she’s willing to allow her daughter Estelle to return after she suffered E. coli-related symptoms.

"Reading the health inspection reports was just atrocious. The bar is set so low. So now, as I’m looking at other service providers, what does that mean? What kind of standard of quality is there in terms of those service providers?

"There’s a sense of the trust being broken."

CTV News has reached out to Fueling Brains for an on-camera interview, but the organization declined and instead provided a statement.

The company says it underwent extensive cleaning at all its facilities once the outbreak was declared and followed all testing requirements laid out by AHS.

It also said it working with parents to come up with a "solution" that could include tuition credits, refunds and possibly even waiving terminations for impacted families.

CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT FILED AS PARENTS CALL ON PROVINCE TO MAKE CHANGES

A class-action lawsuit against Fueling Brains has been issued by a group of parents as a result of what Cumming & Gillespie Lawyers are calling "negligent, unsanitary and unsafe food storage, preparation and handling practices."

Katie McLean is the parent of a two-year-old daughter who contracted E. coli as a result of attending one of the daycares.

She’s demanding immediate action from the province.

"We're trying to advocate to the government and Premier Danielle Smith that we're not waiting for things to be changed. We're not waiting for accountability, we're asking for those things to be changed now," she said.

"It's up to the UCP MLAs and opposition MLAs to be part of that conversation, and say, 'We're not going to put our children at risk anymore.' Cutting red tape, cutting corners, cutting costs is not worth the safety of our most-vulnerable people in our society."

McLean recently sent out an open letter to Smith alongside parent colleagues to question how a kitchen with "so many violations was quietly allowed to keep feeding children with no consequence or due follow up."

As for the legal implications of the lawsuit, law professor at the University of Calgary Lorian Hardcastle says these types of cases have an important role to play in compensating the injured, but they do have limits.

"If it does go ahead, then it could either be settled or potentially go to trial. Either way, the main thing that the parents would have to show is that the food handling facility failed to meet the standard of care in terms of how they were storing or handling or serving the food," she said.

"If it did settle or did go to trial, the potential damages could be significant, particularly given the number of plaintiffs and the long-term health effects that some of them may be experiencing.

"Potentially the damages would also exceed the business's insurance policy limits, and then we could be looking at the facility going out of business." 

'NEVER WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AGAIN': ALBERTA HEALTH MINISTER

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange insists that all the right steps were taken with the Fueling Minds central kitchen to address infractions and follow up with a total of five inspections over the past year.

She notes that all 11 daycares were also thoroughly re-inspected by the province and cleared to open. 

"If we're able to determine the actual source of this outbreak, then we will be better able to understand what else can we do and if we need to bolster policies or procedures, if there's recommendations, we're going to look at those very seriously and see what we can do to make things better," she said.

"We never want this to happen again, ever. It should never happen."

When asked about refunds, however, and if the province could step in to help affected parents with finances, LaGrange added that her team is still determining next steps.

"We are certainly looking to see what we can do as a province, but again, on the actual fees themselves, because this is a contract between the provider and the parents of the children, that has to come from them."

PARENTS GROUP LENDS HELPING HAND FOR FAMILIES AFFECTED BY E. COLI OUTBREAK

A group of Calgary parents impacted by the E. coli outbreak themselves are rolling up their sleeves to help other families who still have children recovering in hospital.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with donations and has raised more than $4,500 so far. 

Organizer Cathy Wang says the money is going towards food deliveries for children and family at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, non-perishable care packages for parents, as well as goodie bags for children, including things like crayons and activity books to cheer them up.

Wang was lucky enough for her child to have avoided the E. coli outbreak, but she says she hopes this initiative can help make an impact. 

"These families are struggling with so much right now, they’re struggling with their sick kids in hospital and with the financial situations, they're unable to work while they care for their kids and unable to make income," she said.

"We’ve actually received an overwhelming level of support from the community, so many people have been reaching out to us to volunteer for us, because they really care about the costs and we have people donating big and small."

Other volunteers like Sarah McLeod say anything helps, and she hopes her efforts can provide just a little bit of hope during these incredibly difficult times.

"Luckily, my son was not sick from this outbreak, so I felt incredibly fortunate, but I thought this was the least I could do to help some of these other parents who are going through probably one of the hardest things they've ever gone through with their child."

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Here is Canada's unseasonably mild December forecast

December is predicted to be unseasonably mild across Canada, thanks to a "moderate-to-strong" El Nino and human-caused warming. Warming and precipitation trends will be stronger in some parts of the country than others, and severe weather is still possible, meteorologists say.

Stay Connected