Staff at hard-hit seniors' home in Shawinigan working 'inhumane hours,' nurses say

As the government appeals to doctors to step in to replace 2,000 ill or absent health-care workers in long-term care institutions across Quebec, two replacement nurses at CHSLD Laflèche, where there are 174 COVID-19 cases, say staff there are "at the end of their rope."

Replacement nurses at CHSLD Laflèche say in face of 174 COVID-19 cases, staff at 'end of their rope'

Manon Leproon, left, and Valérie Francoeur volunteered to help out at the CHSLD Laflèche, in Shawinigan, Que., where 102 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. (Submitted by Valérie Francoeur)

As the government appeals to doctors to step in to replace 2,000 ill or absent health-care workers in long-term care institutions across Quebec, two replacement nurses at one of the hardest-hit seniors' homes in the province say staff there are "at the end of their rope."

Valérie Francoeur and Manon Leproon normally work at the GMF-U medical clinic in Shawinigan, in Quebec's Mauricie region.

With fewer patients showing up for regular check-ups at the clinic, and seeing the situation worsen day by day at the CHSLD Laflèche in Shawinigan, Leproon and Francoeur said they felt it was their duty to step up to help their colleagues.

"We couldn't just stay in the comfort of our clinic, working nine to five, and watch the train go by," said Francoeur as she walked out of the CHSLD Laflèche on Tuesday after her first shift there.

Staff and personnel on site have been dealing with some of the highest number of cases in the province. 103 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 — and 30 have died.

Seventy-one employees have also contracted the virus, leaving teams short-staffed and overworked.

"People were happy to see us come in," said Francoeur. "They are really at the end of their rope."

Permanent employees at the long-term care facility told Francoeur they have been working "inhumane hours" because Laflèche is so short-staffed.

Leproon, who worked in long-term care for 10 years, said while some of the COVID-19 patients they helped on Tuesday are asymptomatic, others are in palliative care.

"Even under normal circumstances, these patients require a lot of care. With the COVID, the needs are even greater," said Leproon.

Entire region on alert 

On Wednesday, Premier François Legault appealed directly to doctors to step in to help in the dozens of public and private long-term care homes besieged by the virus.

"I'm asking every available physician, generalist or specialist, to come and help us. We need you to do the basic work. I appeal to your sense of duty to help us take care of the elderly," he said at his daily 1 p.m. briefing.

That need is being felt acutely, not only in Shawinigan but across the Mauricie region, where 134 employees in the public health sector have tested positive for COVID-19.

Nurses Valérie Francoeur and Manon Leproon are urging other health-care workers to help out at beleaguered seniors' care institutions across the province. (Submitted by Valérie Francoeur)

Seeing so many cases emerge in a region with a relatively small population is worrisome for Dr. Frédéric Picotte, the head of the GMF-U medical clinic where Francoeur and Laproon normally work.

"This is where the fire is. This is where we have the most cases, so there's a lot of fear."

When his colleagues asked if they could be reassigned to work at Laflèche, Picotte said his team reorganized the workload at the clinic immediately to let them go.

"We were really proud of their initiative," said Picotte, who is also an emergency physician at the Hôpital du Centre-de-la-Mauricie in Shawinigan-Sud.

He said right now that hospital is running at about 60 per cent capacity and is ready to take on more patients.

While he supports the idea of seeing nurses and staff transferring to the long-term care sector, where the needs are most urgent now, he said it's important to ensure emergency teams are equipped to treat patients when the peak of the virus hits.

"We don't want to spread the problem, either," Picotte said.

Moving personnel an issue

In addition to CHSLD Laflèche, four other long-term care homes in the region were identified on a list of facilities hardest-hit by COVID-19 released by the government Tuesday.

Fourteen of the 33 residents at the CHSLD Mgr-Paquin in St-Tite have contracted the virus — one patient has died. Twelve cases, including one death, have also been confirmed in Trois-Rivières, at the Maison Niverville.

The general manager of the CIUSSS Mauricie—Centre-du-Québec, Carol Fillion, said up until the weekend, staff were working at more than one institution, as needed, "because we were really short-staffed."

Dr. Frédéric Picotte said right now, medical teams in the Mauricie region are focusing on the CHSLD Laflèche, 'where the fire is.' (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

While Fillion said he couldn't confirm whether that contributed to the spread of the virus from one facility to another, he said that practice ended on Sunday.

Filion said it may also have been a mistake to ask workers who had been in contact with colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic to continue working.

"When I made that decision, I was making it based on the knowledge I had," he said.

"Today, would I still make people work, who haven't been tested and who have been in contact with COVID-19? The answer is no."

As of April 15, 862 cases have been confirmed across the Mauricie and Central Quebec region.

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