'Did he die of neglect?': Daughter of Herron resident can't find out if dead were tested for COVID

The Saskatchewan-based daughter of a man who was one of 31 to die at a Montreal care home in the past month says she cannot find out if her father died of COVID-19 — or even if he was tested. 

Health authority West Island CIUSSS will not say if it knows whether all dead were tested

Moira Davis with her dad Stanley Pinnell in 2016. Davis is trying to find out how Pinnell died at CHSLD Herron in Montreal last week. (Submitted by Moira Davis)

The Saskatchewan-based daughter of a man who was one of 31 to die at a Montreal care home in the past month says she cannot find out if her father died of COVID-19 — or even if he was tested. 

West Island CIUSSS, which has taken over management of CHSLD Herron amid allegations of neglect, will not say if it knows whether all 31 people who died were tested for the virus. Five of the 31 cases have been confirmed as being caused by COVID-19.

"Did he die of COVID? Did he die of neglect? Did he die of both?" said Moira Davis, whose father Stanley Pinnell died at the CHSLD Herron last week. 

She said she specifically asked for her father to be tested after she was told by a nurse that the facility had stopped testing for COVID-19 altogether. That was the day before her father's death.

The owners of the home have not responded to requests for comment on this story. CIUSSS said every resident has been tested but would not confirm if that includes the 31 dead. 

The Quebec government announced today it has started counting recent deaths of people never tested for virus, increasing the death toll to 630.

Davis is still not sure if her dad is one of those cases. She learned of her father's death on April 8, the same day the local health authority took full control of the home. 

Davis only found out about allegations of neglect on April 11, when they were reported in an article by the Montreal Gazette. Workers who attended the home spoke out about horrific conditions at the CHSLD Herron on the day the health authority intervened. 

Stanley Pinnell died at CHSLD Herron. The home is now the subject of three investigations, including one led by police. (Submitted by Moira Davis)

A coroner's inquest and an investigation by the local health authority — the West Island CIUSSS — have been launched after staff spoke out about horrific conditions. They described residents being left unfed and untended to, with full diapers and soiled beds.

"I got in my car and I cried for 20 minutes, I was so distraught from my experience," Loredana Mule, a nurse who was called in to help on March 29, told CBC. 

"It was so inhumane."

She said she worked with two other nurses, struggling to feed some 60 residents. Inside their rooms, she said, "the stench could kill a horse, with the urine and feces."

"I felt sick to my stomach knowing that because of his health needs, he probably was one of those ones left in his bed for days on end," she said. 

Davis first learned about COVID-19 being at the home on March 27, when she received an email from CHSLD Herron advising that one case had been confirmed at the home. Two days later she received another email saying another two cases had been confirmed at the centre.

Behind the scenes and unbeknownst to Davis, the West Island CIUSSS had stepped in at CHSLD Herron. 

"On March 29, the CIUSSS intervened in support of the owners of the CHSLD Herron, in the context of the sanitary emergency," said a statement from the CIUSSS health authority on April 11.

Flowers were left on the lawn of CHSLD Herron on Sunday, a day after the Quebec government confirmed that 31 people had died in the residence over the previous month. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

CIUSSS said owners of the residence did not co-operate, forcing the health authority to put them on notice twice. 

It sought a court order under the Public Health Act to intervene and, once it was granted, took over the facility on April 8 — the day Davis learned her father had died. 

CIUSSS said in a statement that it has since taken action to improve the situation with a series of measures including the deployment of a manager at the residence, the creation of a "hot zone" to isolate infected residents, and the addition of health workers. 

A phone line has also been set up for families of residents at the Herron home to call for information about their loved ones. 

Davis has called multiple times and said that although the workers were helpful, she is yet to learn what caused her father's death. 

A woman holds up a sign outside Maison Herron, a long term care home in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, Que., on Saturday, April 11, 2020, as COVID-19 cases rise in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

She said she was informed that her father's room has been locked down to be investigated by the coroner's office. 

Davis has called on Quebec Premier François Legault to guarantee job security for Herron workers who want to help shed light on what happened inside the centre.

"They should be able to say exactly what went down and whether or not they reported things to people further up the chain that were ignored," she said. 

"They should not lose their jobs or face any kind of punishment because they want to tell the truth. I want the truth to come out."

CBC received a response from Premier Legault's office late Wednesday. 

"No omerta should exist," said the statement. 

"We ask all residences' directions, the staff or the families, to speak out if there is a critical situation. That way, the Ministry of Health and Social services and the Direction de la Santé publique du Québec can intervene as quickly as possible."

The statement referred to the investigations that are in progress. 

"I can assure you that we want to get to the bottom of this. But the urgency for us right now is to take care of our seniors. This mission is our first priority," it said. 

Stanley Pinnell was 96 years old when he died at CHSLD Herron. His daughter Moira says he had been hoping to reach 100 to get a letter from the Queen. (Submitted by Moira Davis)

The federal government has promised new measures to protect long-term care home residents. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he would be speaking to provincial leaders and encouraging extra pay for essential workers in long-term care.

The changes won't make any difference for Stanley Pinnell, the 96-year-old whose daughter says he was eager to make it to his 100th birthday because he wanted his letter from the Queen. 

Davis hopes the investigations into what happened at Herron lead to major changes to prevent the same mistakes happening again. 

"Going forward there will be a framework developed on a provincial level because it will have to be each done provincially to fix this, and create something better and newer," she said. 

"So that these seniors who have contributed to society for decades are able to live their final days, weeks, months, years, in clean, safe accommodations."

With files from Omayra Issa, Isaac Olson, Benjamin Shingler, John MacFarlane


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