Montreal

PPE shortages persist at Quebec long-term care home with more than half of residents infected

Montreal nurses who have volunteered to work in a private long-term care home with a major COVID-19 outbreak said there is "shockingly little" protective gear available for employees, despite assurances from the Quebec government that equipment shortages across the province no longer exist.

All residents being treated as infected, replacement nurses at CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal say

Nurses who have volunteered to work at the Vigi Mont-Royal in the Town of Mount Royal, an independent municipality within the city of Montreal, describe seeing staff moving between infected and infection-free zones without changing their scarce protective equipment — a potential vector for COVID-19 to spread. (Radio-Canada)

Montreal nurses who have volunteered to work in a private long-term care home with a major COVID-19 outbreak said there is "shockingly little" protective gear available for employees, despite assurances from the Quebec government that equipment shortages across the province no longer exist.

Nurses from elsewhere in the network who have been called in to help at CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal in the Town of Mount Royal, an independent municipality within the city of Montreal, describe fellow health-care workers wearing the same protective gear for hours — not changing gloves and masks between patients because there are not enough to spare.

According to the Quebec government's latest figures, Vigi Mont-Royal is the fourth-most infected long-term care home in the province, with 157 residents, or 56 per cent, having tested positive for COVID-19.

One nurse who CBC has agreed not to identify described seeing some of the private home's original staff working in jeans and T-shirts or simple scrubs. In one case, she said, she saw a worker with a blanket wrapped around them as a makeshift gown.

The nurse said that staff were moving between so-called hot zones within the home where infected residents were concentrated and cold, or infection-free, zones without changing their protective equipment, which could hasten the spread of the illness.

"Even the residents who weren't infected were now treated as being infected," she said.

"There's no winning. We don't have the resources to have the proper practices and a normal standard of care."

While the nurse said hospital staff would bring loads of extra protective gear with them to the home, it was never enough, and staff still had to ration it by wearing the same gear while caring for multiple residents. 

No shortage of PPE, says health minister

It's a sharp contrast from the portrait painted by Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann, who said Tuesday that staff should now have enough protective material and should not be reusing single-use gear.

When asked at the province's daily briefing Wednesday about reports of continued shortages, McCann suggested it could be a problem of distribution, rather than a lack of supply.

"Ideally, we would like the distribution to be perfect," she said. "But I know there are exceptions. So, tell us. Tell us, call us, email us. We will respond in the next hour."

'Tell us, call us, email us. We will respond in the next hour,' Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann said Wednesday when asked about health-care worker complaints about shortages of protective gear. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Vigi Mont-Royal is owned by Vigi Santé, which operates 15 private long-term care homes, known in Quebec as CHSLDs, across the province. 

Three of the company's other homes are also dealing with COVID-19 cases, according to the latest figures from the Quebec government.

At CHSLD Vigi de Dollard-des-Ormeaux, 89 residents, or 56 per cent, have tested positive, and at CHSLD Vigi santé Pierrefonds, there are 25 cases, or 39 per cent of all residents. 

The Vigi Reine Élizabeth Montréal in NDG is less acutely affected, with eight confirmed cases, or only five per cent of residents. 

A spokesperson for Vigi Santé said no one was available for an interview Wednesday.

'Winging it' in a crisis

Nurses who arrived to help at the Vigi Mont-Royal home said they were given only a cursory orientation and lacked information about residents, their charts and medications.

They described having difficulty identifying residents, relying on photographs attached to residents' charts when there was no regular staff member nearby to guide them.

"Residents were not in the rooms that were assigned to them," said one nurse, who said that some residents had identity bracelets but others did not.

"So [it was] a guessing game and trying to associate their pictures to their rooms. It's essentially winging it."

A health-care worker is seen in the window of the CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval wearing a full face shield, mask and gown. That protective gear is in short supply at CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal, replacement nurses sent in to help staff in the home say. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

She said this amplified the risk of administering medications to the wrong people, which could have serious medical consequences.

All the while, she said, the phone was ringing off the hook with family members calling for updates on their loved ones.

"They're asking, 'How are they?' and if they are OK, and are they alive," she said.

Family members were relieved to get the slightest bit of information.

"They would thank us a million times and say, 'Thank you for picking up.'" 

"It's heartbreaking. I feel it's the bare minimum that they deserve."

She said the inability to do more for family members has added to her frustration.

"You don't feel like you're making a difference. You feel helpless, in a way."

About the Author

Ainslie MacLellan is a journalist at CBC Montreal. Follow her on Twitter: @CBCAinslie.

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