Montreal

Approaching heat wave threatens to add to long-term care homes' woes

The Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients says it's ready to go to court to force Quebec's regional health agencies to install air conditioning or a ventilation system in all residents' rooms.

Patients' rights group wants Quebec to install air conditioning units in every room

Patients rights advocate Paul Brunet says Quebec's regional health authorities need to install air conditioning units in long-term care homes. (CBC)

An impending heat wave threatens to worsen the situation in Quebec's long-term care residences, already reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A heat wave is expected to hit the province on Tuesday, with minimum temperatures of 30 C for three days.

The Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients says it's ready to go to court to force Quebec's regional health agencies to install air conditioning or a ventilation system in all rooms in CHSLDs — the French acronym for long-term care residences.

"It's a matter of human rights," said Paul Brunet, president and chief executive officer of the council.

He said the temperature in some rooms exceeded 35 C during the last heat wave.

"How they're going to do it is not our problem," he said. "It is their raison d'être, it is their mission, it is their duty to find the appropriate way to render the rooms of elders and disabled people residing in these facilities comfortable and safe."

In previous years, residents who did not have air conditioning were moved to cooler locations. But the COVID-19 pandemic will now complicate this strategy.

Brunet said it is fairly easy to quickly install air conditioning or a ventilation systems that can cool the air.

"We talked to experts," he said. "It's very easy to lower the temperature of an entire building — you don't have to knock down walls."

Quebec's minister responsible for seniors, Marguerite Blais, said the situation won't have an easy fix. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

Quebec's minister responsible for seniors, Marguerite Blais, said the government has set up a working committee and will have answers soon, but she disagreed that the situation has a quick solution.

The government "inherited extremely dilapidated buildings," she said, where the existing electrical systems have limitations.

"It's not a question of money, it is a question of being able to handle the additional electrical load at the structural level," she said.

Brunet rejected this argument, observing that "for the past 20, 30 years, offices of these same facilities have been air conditioned, notwithstanding the age of the building."

Blais is also awaiting a report from Quebec's public health institute on the risks of COVID-19 spread associated with ventilation.

According to the minister, a third of rooms in CHSLDs are currently air-conditioned in Quebec.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Radio-Canada

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