Montreal

Quebec relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on some seniors' homes

Quebec seniors who are living in certain institutions and can largely care for themselves will soon be allowed to enjoy a walk in the spring air without a chaperone — as long as they maintain physical distancing and wear a mask. 

Changes apply to residents who live with a high degree of autonomy

Quebec's long-term care homes have been hit hard by COVID-19 virus. Now, private seniors' residences where there are no confirmed cases will gradually have their confinement measures lifted. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The latest:

  • Quebec has 33,417 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 2,398 people have died. That's 118 more recorded deaths from a day earlier.
  • There are 1,821 people in hospital, including 218 in intensive care.
  • Here's a guide to the numbers.
  • Quebec is gradually allowing residents in private seniors' homes that don't have positive COVID-19 cases to go outside unaccompanied. 
  • Caregivers will be allowed to enter CHSLDs, RPAs and other types of residences starting on May 11. 
  • Some retail businesses outside the greater Montreal area reopened yesterday. We've updated our guide to what's open and closed.
  • The reopening date for Montreal retailers has been pushed back to the week of May 18.

Quebec seniors who are living in certain institutions and can largely care for themselves will soon be allowed to enjoy a walk in the spring air without a chaperone — as long as they maintain physical distancing and wear a mask.

Premier François Legault is gradually lifting some of the restrictions on Résidences privées pour aînés (RPAs), privately owned homes for autonomous seniors, put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

"Autonomous people have been isolated for two months now," Legault said Tuesday "It's bad for mental health." 

Legault made the announcement at his regular news briefing alongside Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors, and Quebec's Director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda. 

Since March 23, regular visits have been banned at the province's 1,800 RPAs, and their 130,000 residents have been unable to leave, unless accompanied.

Quebec will now begin to ease these rules, allowing unaccompanied walks.

Arruda stressed that seniors will still have to maintain physical-distancing rules and will be asked to wear masks while outside, and to wash their hands before and after their walk. 

"Families can now meet with RPA residents outdoors, while maintaining distance," Arruda said, and that the decision was made for the physical and mental health of seniors. 

But he said that all this is subject to change depending on how the pandemic evolves.

The changes won't apply to RPAs with a confirmed case of COVID-19, nor to the province's network of long-term care homes, known as CHSLDs, where residents require a higher level of care. 

According to data compiled by Radio-Canada, the number of COVID-19 cases in RPAs tripled from April 14 to 30. There was at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 in each of 143 RPAs, and about 10 others reported that more than 50 per cent of their residents were infected.

Residents of CHSLDs and RPAs account for more than 60 per cent of the deaths from COVID-19 in the province. 

Operators have differing views

For Groupe Sélection, a real estate company that operates 43 private seniors' residences in the province, lifting the ban is good news. 

"We've been receiving comments from our residents for a bit now saying, 'We're adults,'" said spokesperson Mylène Dupéré.

"They've been taking decisions all their lives, and they're responsible, and they should be accountable for respecting those measures."

But Line Vincelli, who owns La Residence Outremont, says it's too soon. She says for older seniors, unsupervised walks aren't a good idea. 

"When you're 85 and 90 and 95 over, you need to … have people around to remind you of the importance of social distancing," said Vincelli, who says she will continue requiring supervised walks for the residence's 34 residents.

Mylène Dupéré, spokesperson for Groupe Sélection, says residents of her company's 43 private seniors' residences want to make their own decisions when it comes to safety. (CBC)

Quebec said in mid-April it also would gradually lift the ban on allowing caregivers into CHSLDs, after barring them in mid-March. But on Tuesday, Blais said certain residences were reluctant to relax restrictions and still weren't letting caregivers in. 

Blais said that, starting May 11, caregivers will be allowed to visit each resident in all institutional care homes — a category that includes RPAs and CHSLDs — provided that sanitary and distancing measures are respected.

"If an establishment wants to prevent that, they have to justify it to the minister of health and social services," Blais said. 

The Health Ministry told CBC News that caregivers will be required to wear a mask, and they should be tested for the coronavirus before visiting a residence with no confirmed cases. The caregiver will need to be screened often and informed of the situation before entering a long-term home with COVID-19 cases.

Only those people who were already caring for the patient regularly before the pandemic will be allowed in, the ministry said. The caregivers will have to go straight to their patient and not visit with others while in the home.

Blais also announced that visits to those in palliative care will be allowed from now on, so that children and partners ot the person who is dying can say goodbye to their family members. 

'I take responsibility': Blais

Despite being minister responsible for seniors, Blais has rarely been the public face of the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis, which in Quebec has heavily affected seniors' homes. Her last appearance at the province's regular briefings was April 13.

Blais said she wished the government had gone further to increase staffing in residences for seniors, including CHSLDs. The government has repeatedly said short-staffing was a problem long before the COVID-19 crisis. She says this should have been done so much earlier, as well.

"We have to pay [orderlies] better, and we have to give them better working conditions," Blais said, adding that the province needs to build a dedicated workforce for seniors. 

Blais, who was first named seniors' minister by former Liberal premier Jean Charest, from 2007 to 2012, was shut out of cabinet under Liberal premier Philippe Couillard and retired from politics in 2015 to care for her dying husband. She ran for the CAQ in 2018, when Legault promised addressing the plight of family caregivers and seniors would be a prioirty.

After being almost invisible throughout this crisis, Blais has drawn fire in recent days for not shouldering any of the blame for the situation in long-term care homes, instead saying her concerns had fallen on deaf ears under prior Liberal regimes.

On Tuesday, she said she, too, stands to account for the crisis. 

"I am a member of the government, and I take responsibility," Blais said. The improvements needed have been under discussion for "20 years," she said.

Legault has repeatedly said increasing wages is necessary to incentivize people to come work in the health network, particularly in CHSLDs. He said Tuesday that an additional premium will be set up to fill the health-care positions that are now empty due to employees who are infected with COVID-19, at a high risk of developing complications or are afraid of contracting the novel coronavirus at work. 

More than 11,000 health-care workers are absent from the network due to the pandemic, Legault said. He once again renewed his call for people, even those without health-care experience, to apply to work in CHSLDs in Montreal through the Je Contribue website if they can work full-time. 

"We are like in a war. We need you more than ever," Legault said. 

The government is in talks with unions to permanently increase wages for orderlies. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said that Marguerite Blais was seniors' minister in Philippe Couillard's Liberal government. In fact, Blais held that position in the prior Liberal government of Jean Charest, from 2007 to 2012. She was re-elected in 2014 but remained a backbencher, and she left politics in 2015 before returning to run for the CAQ in 2018.
    May 05, 2020 7:27 PM ET

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