CHSLD Herron owner made desperate calls to Quebec health helpline as 1st wave of COVID hit

The owner of the Dorval long-term care home called 811 asking for staffing support, saying the regional health authority wouldn't answer.

Regional health authority wouldn't pick up the phone, owner says

As the crisis at CHSLD Herron unfolded during the spring of 2020 and the death toll climbed, people left flowers in front of the long-term care home. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In newly released recordings, the owner of CHSLD Herron — one of the province's hardest-hit long-term care homes during the pandemic — can be heard repeatedly asking for the government's help during the first wave.

The private seniors' residence owner, Samantha Chowieri, and her spouse resorted to calling 811, a public information line for health emergencies, because they said the regional health authority, the West Island CIUSSS, wasn't answering the phone.

"We really need support," Chowieri said to the operator in a March 28, 2020 call. "I don't know if there's someone you could talk to."

The pair of recordings from the owner of Herron, where 47 people died in spring 2020, were entered into evidence for the coroner's inquiry looking into deaths in Quebec seniors' residences during the first wave of the pandemic.

The release of the phone calls follows an email revealing the Legault government learned about the crisis at the Herron long-term care home in Montreal's West Island 10 days before the situation was made public by the Montreal Gazette in April 2020.

The West Island CIUSSS took control of the long-term care home a day after Chowieri called 811 for help.

In March 2020, Chowieri told the operator the Dorval long-term care home was lacking staff after employees became sick. Residents and at least one staff member tested positive for COVID-19, she said. Staff were told to isolate at home.

Chowieri also said she asked for the CIUSSS to send reinforcements to administer tests to residents with limited mobility.

"There are residents on the floor that need to drink," she said in a phone call to the help line the following day. "Our situation will be really serious, and I don't think people understand the extent of it."

Danielle McCann, who was health minister at the time, said she wouldn't comment further about the situation "out of respect for the families."

"I testified at Coroner [Géhane] Kamel's inquiry," she said. "We need to wait for the conclusion of the coroner's investigation."

WATCH | CHSLD Herron owner sounds off on lack of support in phone call: 

Herron owner and spouse unleash frustrations in March 2020 phone call

3 months ago
Duration 0:30
Shortly after an 811 call on March 28, 2020, Herron CHSLD owner Samantha Chowieri and her spouse are heard venting their frustrations during a follow-up call with the public health information service.

Opposition parties call for clarification

Opposition parties say the Legault government needs to clarify who knew about what was happening at CHSLD Herron during the first wave of the pandemic and when they found out.

"Those recordings are disturbing and honestly they are a shame for a society as Quebec," Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Québec Solidaire's co-spokesperson.

"Mr. Legault cannot take credit for what goes well and throw people under the bus for what goes wrong."

Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade says it's hard to listen to the calls because you can hear the urgency.

"It was critical and I cannot fathom why the government didn't do anything, why the ministers didn't do anything," she said.

A spokesperson for the West Island CIUSSS said the board would not comment further to respect the coroner's inquest process.

With files from Kate McKenna, Steve Rukavina, Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet and The Canadian Press