Families fear for seniors in care after 2 deaths from COVID-19 in LaSalle residence

Two people have died and at least 12 more residents are infected with COVID-19 at a public seniors' home in LaSalle — a grim situation mirrored in numerous chronic-care institutions around the province.

It's 'almost impossible' to avoid deaths among the elderly, Quebec's public health director says

Ken and Connie Wheeland, married 62 years, are both residents at seniors' homes in Montreal that have multiple cases of COVID-19. (Submitted by Peter Wheeland)

Two people have died and at least 12 more residents are infected with COVID-19 at a public seniors' home in LaSalle.

It's a grim situation mirrored in numerous chronic-care residences around the province — a problem for which Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health acknowledges "there is no perfect" solution given the virus's particular deadliness among the elderly.

At CHSLD LaSalle, staff have moved more than 200 residents to the same floor in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, and some staff members have been sent home into quarantine.

With 66 cases in all, the borough of LaSalle has been identified as one of several hot spots on the island by Montreal's public health agency.

Peter Wheeland's 85-year-old father Ken Wheeland lives at CHSLD LaSalle.

With reports of one death and a large number of cases at his father's residence, Wheeland said his stress level is rising."The entire family is feeling quite overwhelmed by this. I'm still kind of flabbergasted that after two weeks we haven't been able to actually have a conversation with my father."

Peter Wheeland said he's anxious to get in touch with his parents. (Peter Wheeland/Facebook)

With the government banning all visits to long-term care homes, Wheeland hasn't been able to see either of his parents during the pandemic.

"We're literally afraid that he thinks we've abandoned him because he hasn't seen us," he said.

For 62 years, his parents were always together — even at a private care home, the CHSLD Herron in Dorval. But that changed two weeks ago when his father's condition deteriorated, and he was quickly moved to the LaSalle facility.

"It was heartbreaking. My mother didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to him."

Seniors aged 70 and older are among the most vulnerable to the virus and have been told not to leave their residences unless absolutely necessary. In some long-term care institutions, residents are not being allowed to leave their rooms as a preventive measure.

At the province's daily briefing Tuesday, Arruda said that there are numerous protocols in place to protect seniors.

"As soon as there is one case, there should be protocols to make sure that we treat people, to make sure that we protect the health-care workers, to make sure that there are no visitors" entering the institution, he said.

But he also noted that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this virus, and it's "almost impossible" to avoid some deaths.

"There is no treatment; there is no vaccine," he said. "So when you're old … the risk of dying from this is going to be high."

When a case is detected, Arruda said, efforts are made to isolate it to a single room or one floor of a residence.

"But you don't want other people coming to visit them from outside, to get the disease and to transmit it," he said. "That's, I would say, a search-and-contain approach."

Wheeland said that residents at the CHSLD LaSalle were supposed to get tablets so they could communicate with their support systems, but a social worker told him on Monday that the tablets have not arrived yet.

Residents left waiting for basic care

Wheeland also has cause for concern about his 87-year-old mother Connie's residence in Dorval.

Just last weekend, he was told three people there tested positive for COVID-19.

The facility took the necessary protocols to quarantine people who may have been exposed, but that lead to staffing shortages.

Wheeland told CBC that his mother had to wait for basic care and sometimes go without.

"She felt she had to choose between having her diapers changed or having her colostomy bag changed."

In an email, the CHSLD Herron said it has been working with the local health authority to restore staffing levels.

On Monday, Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann announced $133 million in emergency money to help ease the strain on seniors' homes and long-term care facilities.

With files from Jay Turnbull, Sudha Krishnan and Radio-Canada's Davide Gentile, Daniel Boily

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