'They said, try and keep the patients alive': Nurses overwhelmed by outbreak at Laval long-term care home

"We're experiencing this reality in Quebec, not just in Italy or Spain," one nurse working at CHSLD de Sainte-Dorothée said, where more than 100 people have contracted COVID-19.

Health minister boosts staffing, protective equipment after surge of cases at the CHSLD de Sainte-Dorothée

Thirteen people have died from COVID-19 at the CHSLD de Sainte-Dorothée. Residents of long-term care homes account for nearly 45 per cent of the total deaths related to the outbreak. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's health minister is promising improvements after nurses at a Laval long-term care home where 13 patients have died said the conditions for both staff and patients are inhumane.

More than 100 patients at the CHSLD de Sainte-Dorothée, as well as 50 staff, have COVID-19.

One nurse, who was moved from her post in an emergency room to help at the CHSLD as the virus continued to spread, described how they received almost no instruction or information on how the home operated prior to starting work. 

"It was extremely rough," the nurse said in an interview Wednesday. 

"We had to figure out everything on our own."

CBC News is withholding the nurse's identity because she fears professional repercussions for speaking publicly.

The Sainte-Dorothée long-term care home has the highest number of infected patients and the highest number of deaths at a CHSLD in the province, though there are outbreaks of the virus at similar homes elsewhere. 

Nearly 45 per cent of the people who have died due to COVID-19 in Quebec were residents at a long-term care home.

A second nurse, who also asked not to be identified, recounted similar conditions at the CHSLD de Sainte-Dorothée.

After being transferred from her emergency room job to the CHSLD last week, she said she began her first shift without any training or orientation.

She was immediately put into a room with 20 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19.

"They said, try and keep the patients alive. That's the first thing they said to us."

Despite treating patients who had already tested positive, she said they were not given appropriate protective equipment, such as N95 masks.

"They said to us, we don't have them at CHSLDs. If you want one, go buy one."

Instead, they have smaller masks and an insufficient number of gowns, she said.

A health-care worker brings supplies into the CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval on Tuesday. The long-term care home has more than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The province banned visits to CHSLDs and seniors' home last month in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. But cases have been confirmed in hundreds of locations across the province.

At Sainte-Dorothée, a shortage of staff has made that even more difficult.

"It's completely inhumane that they're left alone," the second nurse said.

"They're confused, they're trapped in their room to limit the spread of the virus … They don't understand what's happening. Their family isn't there."

A third nurse, who was also recently transferred, went public Tuesday with similar concerns.

"Imagine if it was a member of your family, what would you do? Dying in oblivion and indifference, alone and far from your family: we're experiencing this reality in Quebec, not just in Italy or Spain," the nurse wrote in a widely shared Facebook post.

More resources coming, health minister says

Health Minister Danielle McCann said Wednesday more nurses and resources have been deployed to Sainte-Dorothée, and other CHSLDs, to help with the shortage of staff.

"We're talking about nurses, we're talking about orderlies that will come to give a hand," she said.

"They added 70 staff members, in addition to the ones in place."

At Sainte-Dorothée, McCann said, infection prevention nurses will try to curb the spread of the virus and additional protective equipment has been provided.

McCann also said health authorities will begin testing patients and staff at CHSLDs across the province to better contain the virus.

Health Minister Danielle McCann, left, said more resources are being put toward the province's long-term care homes. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Jean-François Houle, vice-president of the union representing workers at Sainte-Dorothée, said testing is already underway at the long-term care home, and 50 employees and 115 patients tested positive.

He said a nurse and an orderly continued to work last month after reporting they felt sick, but were told they wouldn't be tested because they didn't all the symptoms. They later both tested positive.

"I'm sorry to say the damage was done. We are in the situation we are now in Sainte-Dorothée," he said.


Kate McKenna is a senior reporter with CBC News. She is based in the parliamentary bureau.

With files from Verity Stevenson

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