'We should never have been put out': A caregiver mourns her patient, as Quebec does about-face on visit ban
Gisele Vanloo had begged to move in to seniors' home with 94-year-old Alzheimer's patient who depended on her
When Gisele Vanloo learned Quebec had banned visitors to seniors' homes, she decided to go into work on March 16 with her bags packed.
She was ready to quarantine herself inside the CHSLD Vigi Reine-Élizabeth, if it meant she could stay with 94-year-old Nancy Newton, a resident for whom she had been caring for the past six years.
Newton had Alzheimer's disease, and Vanloo said she provided a level of one-on-one care that staff at the long-term care residence don't always have time to give residents.
At meal times, for example, Vanloo said she would spend up to an hour coaxing Newton, who was diabetic, to eat.
When Vanloo showed up at the Vigi Reine-Élizabeth with her suitcase, staff turned her away.
"They wouldn't let us take care of the people we loved. I felt I let her down," she said, choking back tears. "I should have been there, and they wouldn't let me."
Nancy Newton died last week, her caregiver Vanloo and one of her daughters at her side. The home had relented and allowed them to be present to offer their final good-byes.
The elderly woman's health had deteriorated. She was no longer the same person she had been three weeks earlier, when they had last seen her. But she had not contracted COVID-19.
'A lot of people have died because of this'
The Quebec government did an about-face Tuesday, announcing that it will gradually lift the ban on visits from caregivers like Vanloo, as long as they follow strict measures that include being tested for COVID-19.
"It's terrible that they didn't allow that from the get-go," said Nancy Newton's daughter, Debbie.
"I am happy for the families that have loved ones who now will have their caregivers back, but this should never have happened," said Vanloo, still distraught.
"We never should have been put out," she said. "Now the government realizes their mistake."
"They are trying to clean up their mess but it's too late, for some."
Paul Brunet, executive director of the Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients, said removing the support of family and caregivers of residents in long-term care has put added pressure on staff as they struggle to contain COVID-19.
"It's unfortunate that a lot of patients did not get the care and services that they are used to," he said.
Debbie Newton goes further.
"Some of these residents are completely dependent on their caregivers, as well as their family and volunteers that come in to help them feed them, clothe them, even keep them clean," she said.
"A lot of people have died because of this."
"I called there every day trying to get the caregiver back in or one of us to be able to feed my mother, because we knew she wasn't eating," she said. At the end, Debbie Newton said, her mother was covered in bedsores and no longer eating.
Vigi Santé's director general, Vincent Simonetta, said the CHSLD, a private seniors' residence with provincial funding, is staffed according to the government's standards, and their personal support workers provide all essential services to their clients.
"We don't let any of our residents die of hunger or of any other kind of mistreatment," he said, although he added he would welcome additional help from the province.
"If the government would provide us with twice as much staff, believe me, we would find things for them to do. But we are not understaffed compared to the other centres."
Gap in care exposed, says union
The union representing Quebec's personal support workers has been arguing for higher staffing levels for years. Successive cuts to the sector were followed by reforms in 2015, said Jeff Begley, the president of the CSN-affiliated federation of health and social services.
It's led to a situation, especially in fully private homes, where there is an à la carte system, Begley said: families who can afford it pay for a private caregiver and therefore get higher quality service.
The crisis exposed that gap in care, when those private caregivers along with family members were shut out of the residences in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.
"How do you overcome the dilemma? One of two things — either you overload already-overloaded orderlies, or you take the risk of propagating the virus even more," he said. "It's lose-lose."
Begley said that he thinks most personal support workers will welcome the return of caregivers, given the staffing shortage that has become so apparent in this crisis.
He said it's hard to solve these issues in the middle of a pandemic, but once it's over, he hopes Quebec will have a broader conversation about improving care for its senior citizens.
With files from Benjamin Shingler, Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Antoni Nerestant