As It Happens

Hypothermia death outside Montreal seniors' home sparks calls for better security

An advocate for patients' rights is sounding the alarm about safety at Quebec seniors' homes after Hélène Rowley Hotte, 93, was found dead of hypothermia in Montreal on Sunday.

Hélène Rowley Hotte, 93, mother of Gilles Duceppe, was locked outside after an early-morning alarm

Hélène Rowley Hotte, seen here at the inauguration of Parc Jean-Duceppe in 2006 alongside her son, Gilles Duceppe, was identified as the woman found in the snow outside an east Montreal residence Sunday morning. (Radio-Canada)

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An advocate for patients' rights is sounding the alarm about safety and security at Quebec seniors' homes after a 93-year-old woman was found dead of hypothermia in Montreal on Sunday. 

Hélène Rowley Hotte, the mother of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, left the Lux Gouverneur seniors' complex through a back door Sunday at 4:15 a.m. after a carbon monoxide alarm went off, CBC News reports. 

The door locked behind her, trapping her outside in a windchill of –32 C. Her body was discovered seven hours later. 

Police say it appears she didn't hear an audio announcement that her building — one of three in the complex — was not being evacuated.

Lux Gouverneur released a statement Monday offering condolences to the family and saying an investigation is underway. The statement says  security cameras show Rowley Hotte was wearing winter clothing when she died and that she may have fainted after leaving the building. 

Pierre Blain of Usagers de la Santé du Québec, an organization that advocates for people in nursing homes and health-care facilities, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the tragedy. Here is part of their conversation. 

How did she get locked out of that building in this cold night that she was in?

First of all, there's some regulations in Quebec about private residences. And in this case, they're supposed to have evacuation plan in case of fire. And in this plan, you must take a special provision for if a person has a handicap. 

And in this case, it seems that we didn't follow that.

And there's another provision also saying that you have to look after a missing person. It seems that we didn't count the people that were in the building and, therefore, we didn't have a connection to do so.

What kind of a facility was this? 

This is a private residence, a very luxury one and for people who are autonomous. 

The woman's body was found in the snow just outside the Lux Governor Residence Sunday. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

And did she have her own yard? Was she able to go right outside from her own apartment?

No, because this is a tower.

It means that probably she takes the stairs to follow the evacuation.

Usually, when you have an evacuation plan, you are supposed to have somebody responsible on every floor, and it seems in this case there was nobody responsible on every floor.

As I understand, she left because she thought she was being evacuated. She could hear the alarm and knew that there was a fire alarm, but couldn't hear the announcement about what buildings were being evacuated, right?

We presume that. I'm not sure.

That's the reason why I said that there we're supposed to have an evacuation plan. And in this evacuation, we must take care about people who need some help.

Since she didn't hear perfectly, I think we should have more care about herself, about that person.

What are your biggest questions that you want answered right now?

They didn't follow the regulation about evacuation plan. From our point of view, that's the main problem in this case.

And especially, they didn't take care of the people inside. They didn't have a list. They didn't know who was in and who was out.

This tragedy is larger for so many because we all know that the son of this woman [is] Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Québécois leader. But in Quebec, there must be so many people thinking about their own loved ones in these institutions, in this in these facilities. 

I am thinking about my sisters who are living in [a seniors' facility] who are not able to to walk. What do we do with these people?

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Allie Jaynes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.