Quebec's private nursing homes under scrutiny as COVID-19 death toll rises to 328

Public health officials in Quebec were investigating conditions at private long-term care homes around the province on Sunday, following revelations that 31 people had died in the last month at a private facility in Montreal.

Province-wide inspections follow revelations of horrific conditions at Dorval residence

A woman holds up a sign outside Maison Herron, a long term care home in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, Que. Both Montreal police and a provincial coroner have opened investigations into the situation at the residence. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
  • Quebec has 12,846 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 328 Quebecers have died. There are 824 people in hospital, including 217 in intensive care.
  • 31 people have died at a private CHSLD in Dorval since March 13. Five of those deaths have been attributed COVID-19.
  • The virus is exacting a cruel toll on a growing list of seniors' residences and long-term care centres, with public and private facilities reporting high numbers of deaths.
  • Montreal has 5,861 cases of COVID-19 and the region's public health authority says the peak should come within days.
  • Here is what is open and what is closed over the long weekend.
  • The Quebec government is not scheduled to give a news conference today.

Public health officials in Quebec were investigating conditions at private long-term care homes around the province on Sunday, following revelations that, since the coronavirus outbreak began, 31 people have died at one such facility in Montreal. 

Both Montreal police and a provincial coroner have opened investigations into the situation at CHSLD Herron, in the Montreal suburb of Dorval. 

Nurses who were dispatched earlier this month to help overwhelmed staff at CHSLD Herron described finding residents who were unfed and unattended, with full diapers and soiled beds.

On Saturday, Premier François Legault said what had happened at the Dorval facility "looks a lot like major negligence."

Health Minister Danielle McCann ordered teams to visit all 41 private CHSLDs in Quebec to evaluate how they are handling the outbreak of coronavirus and provide assistance if needed.

On Sunday evening, the president of the association representing Quebec's private long-term care residences responded, saying that singling out private facilities ignored similarly deadly outbreaks happening at an increasing number of public CHSLDs.

The tone at the government's news conference on Saturday was more sombre than it had been all week.

Just days earlier, Legault had been musing about possibly reopening schools and parts of the economy. 

Several indicators suggest Quebec will likely avoid the worst-case scenarios feared by public health experts, including the overcrowded hospitals that contributed to thousands of deaths in Italy and Spain.

In the latest figures, released Sunday, 554 new confirmed cases were reported, bringing the provincial total to 12,846. That's the third consecutive day that the number of new cases has dropped. Hospitalizations are also trending downward.

Two people embrace outside CHSLD Yvon-Brunet in the Sud-Ouest borough. Public health officials say 17 people have died at the residence since the outbreak began. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Private nursing homes under scrutiny 

But Legault's recent optimism was tempered this weekend by Quebec's rapidly mounting death toll — 39 more deaths were announced Sunday — and evidence the virus is ravaging the provincial network of public and private long-term care homes.

On Sunday, public health officials in Montreal told Radio-Canada that at the CHSLD Yvon-Brunet, a public facility in the city's Sud-Ouest borough, 17 people have died since the outbreak began.

Another public facility, CHSLD Laflèche in Shawinigan, Que., has had 22 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. A contingent of 50 local hospital workers have been assigned to help the staff at Laflèche, where 16-hour shift had become common. 

The Quebec government, though, has been seeking to place scrutiny on the private side of the nursing-home network since details about the CHSLD Herron situation emerged Friday in the Montreal Gazette. 

Provincial officials began inspecting every private facility in the province on Saturday and Sunday. McCann said she wants a report within days.

It has been exactly one month since Quebec began introducing social distancing measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Association representing private residences responds

Later Sunday, the association representing Quebec's private long-term care residences, the AELDPQ, fired back, saying the increased scrutiny ignores parallel situations at public facilities.

The AELDPQ also said the Legault government has repeatedly failed to deliver on promises to boost funding for the private residences.

In a letter addressed to McCann, Michel Nardella, the association's president, noted that the government takes advantage of low-cost contracts for significant numbers of beds in the private residences, and that public officials regularly visit the facilities as a matter of course — and so are well aware of the conditions.

He noted that at one point early in the pandemic the private facilities were cut off from procuring personal protective equipment from their suppliers so that material could go to hospitals. But, Nardella added, public CHSLDs continued to receive the material.

Emergency funding for such equipment promised by the government has not yet arrived, Nardella wrote, and the private institutions have had to cover the costs themselves.

Nardella said it was "contemptuous and unsettling" for Legault to single out private non-contracted residences "when we know the situation in the other public and contracted private CHSLDs in Montreal, in Montérégie, in Mauricie" is similar.

Problems at a facility in LaSalle

In the meantime, another private long-term care home in Montreal, Les Floralies in LaSalle, also appears to be struggling to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19.

Regional health officials said at least 12 people have died of the disease at the facility, and another 10 have tested positive. 

Some of the residents at Les Floralies were moved there from area hospitals, in order to make space for the expected wave of COVID-19 patients at the outset of the pandemic.

But family members say Les Floralies did not have enough staff to take care of the newcomers.

There have been at least 12 deaths linked to COVID-19 at Les Floralies private seniors' home in LaSalle. (David Gentile/Radio-Canada)

Nathalie Stein said her mother was infected with COVID-19 after she was moved from St. Mary's hospital to Les Floralies. She was unable to get updates about her mother's condition for days at a time.

"I said to the director, this makes no sense at all! Stop taking people if you don't have the staff," Stein told CBC News.

The staffing issues at private care facilities have long been a problem, said Patrick Martin-Ménard, a medical malpractice lawyer in Montreal. 

"We've known for years and we have denounced for years the fact that private entities essentially operate in a situation where they are not adequately monitored by the public system," Martin-Ménard said.

When the government banned visits to long-term care homes as part of its COVID-19 containment strategy, that aggravated the staffing shortage, because family members often play an important role providing care, he said.

In addition, staff at both public and private care homes have either been falling sick themselves or forced into isolation because of contact with someone with the disease. 

"We have said for years that there needed to be more checks and balances in place to protect vulnerable elderly patients in private. This shows that this has to be significantly improved," said Martin-Ménard.

With files from Radio-Canada, Kate McKenna and Colin Harris

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