COVID-19 in Quebec: 'We are asking doctors to join humanitarian mission,' health minister pleads

With critical outbreaks in dozens of long-term care institutions, Premier François Legault says short-staffed homes need 2,000 health-care workers right now. He says the government is asking some of the province's 20,000 doctors to help out, doing the work of nurses, as that's what's needed.

Premier says short-staffed long-term care homes need 2,000 health-care workers right now

Funeral home workers removing a body from the Verdun CHSLD seniors residence on Wednesday. The government released a list Tuesday of the hardest hit CHSLDs in the province. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
  • Quebec has 14,860 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 487 people have died. There are 984 people in hospital, including 218 in intensive care — 12 fewer than Tuesday. Here's a guide to the numbers.
  • The province has extended its declaration of a public health emergency until April 24.
  • Premier François Legault is appealing to people with health-care experience to help in the province's care homes.
  • Quebec released a list of a list of 142 facilities in the province with outbreaks, as pressure mounted to be more transparent about which long-term care facilities have outbreaks.
  • Two patients and four staff members have tested positive at the Montreal General Hospital.

Premier François Legault made a desperate plea Wednesday for the most highly trained doctors in the province to bathe and feed elderly residents of long-term care homes, where staffing levels are critically low because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Legault estimated the province must find some 2,000 trained health-care workers as soon as possible to make up for staff who can't come to work at public and private CHSLDs — the long-term care homes for those with the highest needs.

The virus has wreaked havoc on residents and staff at those establishments. Infections have swept through dozens of homes in the province, contributing to the deaths of hundreds of elderly Quebecers.

CHSLDs suffered from chronic staffing shortages long before the pandemic. With large numbers of staff now forced to stay home because they're sick or may have been exposed to the virus, there aren't enough workers left in many institutions to provide adequate care.

Legault has spent the last several days issuing increasingly urgent appeals to health-care workers in all fields to step forward.

On Wednesday, though, he singled out medical specialists, such as surgeons, who have had little to do in the month since Quebec began cancelling elective surgeries to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

Legault appealed to their sense of duty, making it clear he was asking them to do tasks they had been trained for but that are normally done by nurses or patient attendants.

"I understand that they're overqualified to do the work of nurses in CHSLDs," Legault said. "But there is no one else to do it."

Health Minister Danielle McCann called the current situation in Quebec's long-term homes a humanitarian crisis. 

"We want our doctors to come do a humanitarian mission for our seniors, who built Quebec," McCann said. 

Military medics could be summoned, too

The federal government has a national volunteer recruitment campaign of its own underway.

On Wednesday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu indicated her department had identified around 1,000 French-speaking volunteers who had the training necessary to support staff at long-term care homes in Quebec.

Quebec and Ottawa have also been discussing the possibility of deploying military medics to help at CHSLDs.

But while those options are being explored, Legault said, the system needs the immediate help from specialist doctors, calling the current situation a "national emergency."

The head of Quebec's federation of medical specialists, Diane Francoeur, responded to Legault pleas on Twitter, saying her members were ready to lend a hand.

Francoeur said she had already indicated the federation's willingness to help in earlier meetings with the government.

Government identifies 42 hardest-hit care centres

Right now there are 42 long-term care facilities deemed to be in what Legault has called a "critical situation," according to a list published by the Quebec Health Ministry Tuesday.

These include 25 institutions where 25 per cent or more of the residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Among them are CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval, with 120 confirmed cases, and CHSLD Yvon Brunet in Montreal, where there are 99 cases. 

On Chambord Street in Montreal, children made a string of the rainbows that have come to symbolize the fight against COVID-19 in Quebec. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC)

Quebec now has 14,860 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are 984 people in hospital, including 218 in intensive care — 12 fewer than Tuesday. 

A total of 487 people have died — up 52 from Tuesday. Close to half of the province's COVID-19 deaths so far have been recorded in those seniors' institutions caring for those with the highest needs.

Montreal General declares outbreak on 15th floor

While COVID-19 outbreaks in the province have been worst in long-term care homes, some Montreal hospitals are dealing with them, too.

The Montreal General Hospital says it's experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 in its internal medicine unit, as two patients and four staff members have tested positive for the disease. 

With Bixis again rolling through the city, the stations and bikes will be cleaned more often during the pandemic. Mayor Valérie Plante says they are for essential travel, not joyriding. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The hospital says it has stopped admitting people to the 15th-floor unit and will be conducting an epidemiological investigation of each case, retracing the steps of each infected person and their contacts. 

The two patients who tested positive have been put in isolation, as have other patients they may have come in contact with. About 30 staff members are also in quarantine.

Earlier this month, Verdun Hospital was in the grip of another large outbreak, with more than 30 patients testing positive, as well as two doctors. 

Life after the peak in Montreal

Montreal has now recorded 6,830 COVID-19 cases. The province is still expecting to see a peak in COVID-19 cases this weekend, but Montreal's numbers are already peaking, according to the city's public health director, Mylène Drouin. 

Announcing a plan to advance loans of up to $50,000 to small- and medium-sized businesses, Mayor Valérie Plante said Wednesday the city is well-positioned to restart once the economy gets rolling again, although it is "much too early" to know when stores and restaurants will reopen. 

And while most of Montrealers' usual spring activities have been curtailed by physical distancing measures, a sure sign of the season is the launch of the BIXI bike-sharing service. 

Bixi service will be free for health-care workers, and people are encouraged to use them only for essential travel and practise distancing while using them. 

BIXI says it will regularly disinfect the bikes and asks users to wash their hands before and after using them. It is also recommending users buy a pass, so they don't have to touch the buttons to unlock the bikes every time.

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