Private seniors' home in Montreal's east end evacuated after staff flee, owner appeals for help

Public health officials have removed 23 residents from a private seniors’ home in Montreal's east end after the owner declared he could no longer guarantee their health and safety.

23 residents, some of whom have COVID-19, are being transferred to a new site by the regional health agency

The CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal removed 23 patients from Résidence Bellerive in Pointe-aux-Trembles on Wednesday. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

Health officials have removed 23 residents from a private seniors' complex in Montreal's east end after staff abandoned the facility over fears of COVID-19, Radio-Canada has learned.

Last Thursday, a woman who lives in Résidence Quatres-Saisons Bellerive in Pointe-aux-Trembles tested positive for the disease. Her son, Benoît Auger, said she has a fever but "she is not doing so bad."

Auger said he then learned at least one other resident had tested positive. He blamed staff of both the home and the regional health agency, CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, for going in and out of the 122-unit residence without personal protective equipment.

As news of the outbreak spread, people at Bellerive stopped showing up for work. The residence's owner and his family were left to care for them on their own, according to Radio-Canada.

The CIUSSS has been monitoring the privately owned residence for some time, said a spokesperson for the CIUSSS, Catherine Dion, and when the owner declared he could no longer guarantee the safety of his residents, a team was sent in to remove them.

Most residents were transferred to a "non-traditional site" on Wednesday, said Dion. She declined to say how many of those residents have COVID-19. The residence is not mentioned on the Health Minister's list of long-term care homes with outbreaks.

Residents were moved to the Hôtel des Gouverneurs, located near Place Émile Gamelin. Auger's mother was among those transferred and is now staying in an area reserved for those who have COVID-19, he said.

All residents were to be met by a team of professionals to "make sure to welcome them and to offer them a safe environment and level of care and service they require," Dion said.

Separation from companion causes distress

Radio-Canada has learned that not all residents were transferred to the hotel. One 84-year-old woman was taken to Santa Cabrini Hospital by ambulance after she became agitated.

She was upset because she was not allowed to be moved to the same place as her new companion, said her daughter, Josée Paquette. The two had developed a close relationship in recent months.

"She walks him in her wheelchair, and it makes them feel good," she said. "This morning, I spoke to her, and she told me that she was looking forward to the move because she was going with him."

Résidence Bellerive has been the subject of negative inspection reports by health authorities in the past. Now it is empty after the remaining residents were shipped out on Wednesday. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

Paquette spoke to her mother just after she had learned that her companion was being taken by ambulance rather than going in the shuttle.

"She was screaming on the phone," said Paquette. 

"I asked yesterday morning that the transfer be made with her boyfriend. They said to me, 'Yes, we will do our best.'"

Ombudsman investigation reveals 'major shortcomings'

Both the CIUSSS de l'Est and the CIUSS Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de Montréal have been monitoring the situation at the Résidence Bellerive for two years, ever since the province's ombudsman recommended pulling the home's certificate of compliance if it failed to improve conditions there.

The ombudsman released a report in May 2018 outlining its investigation into the Résidence Bellerive, which operates under an agreement with the regional health agencies.

"The clinical and administrative disorganization, lack of care and service continuity, and persistent failings in nursing care were especially disturbing," the report said.

The issues cited include a lack of training and people skills, as well as a lack of proper equipment.

The ombudsman made a series of recommendations, and the agencies committed to closely monitoring the facility, stop referring new residents there — and terminating the service agreement should the situation not improve.

Quebec's long-term homes hit hard

To date, 26,594 Quebec residents have tested positive for COVID‑19 and 1,761 have died. As of Wednesday, nearly 6,172 residents in long-term care are known to have had COVID-19.

Crippling staff shortages in these homes and the health network as a whole have only added to the problem. There were more than 10,000 health-care workers absent on Tuesday alone, according to figures provided by the Health Ministry.

Canadian Armed Forces are moving in by the hundreds to help and Quebec Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said on Wednesday that the situation appears to be improving.

"I think, by the end of the week, probably, we will confirm that the number of deaths per day is going down significantly," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada

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