COVID-19 in Quebec: Death toll at Institut de gériatrie de Montréal higher than official tally

The official tally is just five, according to the regional health board. However, documents obtained by Radio-Canada show that number was exceeded more than two weeks ago. 

Premier promises inspections at nursing homes provincewide, as tales of new outbreaks continue to emerge

The official COVID-19 death toll at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal in Côte-des-Neiges is five, however, Radio-Canada has learned 33 residents have died since the outbreak began — all but one from the coronavirus. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
  • Quebec has 13,557 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 360 Quebecers have died. There are 879 in hospital, including 226 in intensive care. Here's a guide to the numbers.
  • The virus is exacting a cruel toll on a growing list of long-term care institutions, with both public and private facilities reporting high numbers of deaths.
  • Quebec teachers are to be trained to work in the health-care network.
  • The health agency for the northern Quebec region of Nunavik reported three new cases Sunday, bringing the total to 10.
  • Homeless advocates in Montreal say more needs to be done to protect those who have nowhere to stay. People gathering in groups outside face steep fines.

Thirty-three people have died at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal since March 25, Radio-Canada has learned.

The official tally is just five, according to the regional health board, the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal. However, documents obtained by Radio-Canada show that number was exceeded more than two weeks ago. 

Since March 25, there have been only three days where no resident has died. Normally, the institute records an average of three deaths per month.

The Institut universitaire de gériatrie, located just across from St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, is made up of two pavilions: the CHSLD Alfred-Desrochers, where 24 residents have died, and the CHSLD Côte-des-Neiges, where nine have died.

A source told Radio-Canada that all but one of the deaths was from COVID-19. A total of 132 residents have COVID-19, Radio-Canada has learned, and several medical professionals and staff are infected, as well.

"The situation is out of control," said Anne Kettenbeil, the chair of the Alfred-Desrochers Pavilion residents' committee, whose spouse Solange Arseneult died of COVID-19 on March 28. Health-care "teams are overwhelmed."

"The people of Quebec will be suspicious of everything that is reported in these daily news conferences."

Miriam Samuels, 89, has been convalescing at the institute's Côte-des-Neiges pavilion since earlier this year, after breaking her hip on New Year's Day. She then suffered an overdose after her pharmacist mixed up her medication, her daughter, Sharon Samuels, said.

Sharon, who lives in Vancouver, found a company that will fly her mother out west, but the institute will not release her until she tests negative a second time. Miriam Samuels is stuck in a "hot zone" — an area designated for COVID-19 patients — until those test results, expected in four days, prove she is fit to leave.

"Because her most recent test is four days ago, she can no longer be considered negative," said Sharon Samuels. She wants Quebec to make rapid testing widely available, now that it has been approved in Canada. 

Sharon Samuels said the doctors and nurses have been doing their best to respond to questions and assist with communication, but it hasn't been easy to reach her mother.

"If we can talk to her once a day, briefly, we're really lucky," Sharon Samuels said.

"She's all alone and possibly going to die alone, with nobody to talk to, in a ward full of people in hazmat suits. It's just incredibly distressing to not be able to speak with her."

Quebec to inspect every long-term care home

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)

As of Monday, Quebec has 13,557 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 360 Quebecers have died. There are 879 in hospital, including 226 in intensive care.

The vast majority of those deaths are of people over the age of 70 — and at least half were residents of long-term care homes.

Quebec will send inspectors to every long-term care residence in the province, public and private, to ensure conditions are acceptable, Premier François Legault said at his daily briefing Monday.

With Quebec's minister responsible for seniors, Marguerite Blais, at his side, Legault softened the tough stand he took over the weekend toward private seniors' residences, noting that Health Ministry inspectors have found that most are well-run.

He acknowledged that even before the crisis, there was a shortage of health-care support workers in chronic-care institutions.

"We can't fill open positions," Legault said. "Even in the public sector" — where staff are generally better paid — "it's very difficult to attract all the staff we need."

However, he said, since the crisis began, Quebec has increased salaries of all health-care workers and put another 1,100 people to work in seniors' homes across the province.

Legault made it clear he didn't think staffing issues could account for the situation at CHSLD Herron, the private long-term care institution in Dorval which is under investigation after authorities discovered 31 people have died there in the past month.

"Herron is charging something like $3,000 to $10,000 a month to their residents," Legault said. "So they must be able to pay well their people with this kind of money. So there's no excuse, for me."

Legault said inspections have been completed at all 40 private, independent CHSLDs — the French acronym for residential institutions for people in need of a high level of care. 

He said residents are well-treated at the majority of them, but four or five of those 40 residences will be monitored more closely.

'Too soon for caregivers' to visit: Blais

On the question of whether family members and other caregivers might be allowed back into long-term care residences to provide help, especially given staff shortages, Legault and Blais said the risk remains too high. 

Blais said the decision is in the hands of public health officials.

"It's very important, because we don't want another wave," she said. "We don't want this situation coming back again."

Blais, who repeated Monday that she returned to politics to do everything she could to improve the lives of seniors and other vulnerable Quebecers, called it "a crève-coeur decision."

"It breaks my heart, but I know I have to do this to protect seniors and to protect caregivers."

Quebec's Health Ministry has asked the Education Ministry to provide a list of staff who could be re-assigned to work in the health-care network.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that teachers who have recently worked in health care will be put to work as soon as the Education Ministry confirms they are available. Some are already lending a hand on a volunteer basis.

Other teachers will be trained based on the needs of regional health agencies and the workforce available.

Trickle of services restarting

Some medical procedures and operations postponed in the last several weeks as health-care resources were shifted to the coronavirus response will resume in the coming days and weeks, Legault said.

The province has freed up about 2,000 hospital beds that had been reserved for a potential influx of coronavirus patients, Legault said.

"There is room to start again, with the operations that were postponed."

Also Monday, Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet confirmed that residential construction, including renovations, surveying and building inspections, is being added to the essential services list.

Gaps in response for homeless 

A man visits a day centre for the homeless set up in Parc Émilie Gamelin. The city declared a state of emergency two weeks ago, establishing the day centres as homeless shelters struggled to find volunteers and resources. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

On the island of Montreal, there are now 6,393 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Advocates for homeless people in the city say many still have nowhere to go — even those awaiting their COVID-19 test results.

David Chapman, a project co-ordinator at Resilience Montreal, said if a homeless person chooses not to get tested at all, they get no support.

"The truth is a lot of homeless have a small pet or an addiction," he said. "This needs to be incorporated into the model that we're going with."

One woman he accompanied over the weekend was denied emergency shelter as she awaited her test result because she had a dog.

With files from Antoni Nerestant and Colin Harris

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