Out of options, Montreal man starts new job at long-term care home to check on his mother

Caregivers who will be allowed back into long-term care homes on May 11 may face a very different environment from the one they last saw in March.

Caregivers allowed back into Quebec long-term care homes as of May 11 could face chaos, he warns

Gilles Goulet, with his 88-year-old mother Jeanne Leblond, signed up on the government's Je Contribue website to be able to see her in person. (Submitted by Gilles Goulet)

Gilles Goulet did everything he could think of to be able to visit his 88-year-old mother, isolated in a Montreal long-term care home after being diagnosed with COVID-19 last week.

He tried to visit her as a caregiver. When that didn't work, he tried to have pea soup, one of the only things she likes to eat, sent to her room. That failed too.

So Goulet applied to work at the home. His first shift started at 3:30 p.m. Monday, at the Centre d'hébergement Jean-De La Lande.

Jeanne Leblond, who suffers from early onset Alzheimer's disease and has lost most of her vision and hearing, recognized him under the layers of protective equipment he was wearing.

"She told me, 'I recognize your voice, your shoulders,'" Goulet said, who was relieved to see she was in good spirits and was not suffering from any COVID-19 symptoms.

On Tuesday, the Quebec government announced caregivers will be allowed back into long-term care homes as of May 11.

But Goulet says he is not willing to quit his new job just yet and intends to keep working three days a week until he is sure he'll be allowed in.

Caregivers have been banned from entering the province's long-term care facilities since March. But on April 14, the government opened the door to allowing caregivers back into homes if management gave the authorization.

Goulet said for him, that authorization never came. The government acknowledged Tuesday that its directive hadn't been respected by many long-term care homes.

"Certain residences didn't allow it, for all kinds of reasons, good or bad," Premier François Legault said. That's why the government is "changing the paradigm" and now putting the onus on administrators to prove why they want to refuse a caregiver.

Goulet hopes the government's decision to allow caregivers back into long-term care homes will be honoured, but warns people may be shocked by what they'll see. (CBC)

"Before, caregivers were admitted only under exceptional circumstances," said Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors and caregivers.

As of May 11, any establishment that refuses entry to a caregiver who was already present on a regular basis will have to justify its decision to the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

"All caregivers must be welcomed," said Legault. "If they are not, we want to know why."

Nonetheless, Goulet is concerned those government directives will be difficult to respect, particularly in CHSLDs that are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Caregivers facing new reality

With some background experience as a patient attendant, Goulet said he was somewhat prepared for what he saw while he was caring for other patients at the home.

But he has a warning for others — they will be facing "a war zone" once they are allowed back in.

He described the third floor where his mother was transferred as "dilapidated and gloomy."

"I wanted to sign up first and foremost for my mother, who is now living in a hostile environment," said Goulet.

The Health Ministry confirmed to CBC caregivers will be allowed into homes even if there are COVID-19 outbreaks, and will have to wear protective equipment and respect strict hygiene rules.

But Montreal's public health department said this should only happen under "extreme necessities," and is recommending that caregivers stay away from COVID-19 hot zones.

Mélanie Perroux, general coordinator of the Natural Caregivers Group of Quebec, hopes the entire ordeal will highlight  how important their role is, and "how much caregivers can be allies, actors and partners, not only the people that are complaining because the care is not good enough."

With files from Sean Henry and Matt d'Amours

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