As Quebec plans to reopen, care homes still a COVID-19 battleground

As Quebec plans to reopen, care homes still a COVID-19 battleground

As Quebec plans to reopen, care homes still a COVID-19 battleground

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier Francois Legault said this week there are “two worlds” in the province: the world of facilities providing long-term care to seniors, and the rest.

In one of those worlds, schools, stores and factories are preparing to reopen, albeit with restrictions, and sunny spring days have some people musing about the return of fishing, camping and gyms if COVID-19 cases stay under control.

But the situation is very different in the province’s long-term care homes, where dozens of residents die every day and overburdened workers toil in conditions one union leader likens to a war zone.

Seniors residences and long-term care homes account for about 80 per cent of the deaths in the province, and a handful of long-term care homes have more than 100 cases and dozens of deaths each.

Hailey Doane, a nurse who was transferred from her usual workplace in a hospital to a long-term care home in west-end Montreal, says stopping the spread of the virus remains a challenge in the homes, despite the creation of “hot” and “cold” zones.

“They are in private rooms, but sometimes in the middle of a hallway where there are a lot of COVID patients, there are a couple that have tested negative,” she said in a phone interview. While residents are supposed to stay in their rooms, some get confused and wander.

Maintaining a normal routine of feeding, care and medication for the residents can also take longer when some workers simply don’t show up and others are new, she said.

On one bad day, she checked in for a report only to learn that three patients had died. Two orderlies cried as workers in full protective gear removed the bodies.

The spread of the virus through the facility despite best efforts to contain it has some staff wondering if they’re the source. ”We’re starting to question, ‘Is it us?’” Doane said. ”Are we just asymptomatic? They’re not proactively testing us.”

Sandrine Valence-Lanoue, 22, vividly remembers the night she was told that she — a birthing nurse with 10 months of experience — would be the only nurse on duty for three floors of the long-term care home to which she had been transferred, looking after 100 residents in all.

In a Facebook post, she described the chaos of rushing from one resident to another, holding back tears as she tried to keep them changed and medicated as her phone rang with employees needing her help. Two patients fell, while others struggled to breathe.

“We panic, we don’t really know what to do except administer their medication and oxygen, which prove to be ineffective,” she wrote.

In an interview, she said that while staffing numbers have since improved, she believes many employees will need psychological help to overcome the anxiety and trauma they’ve experienced.

“We have few resources, and it’s time to help us before we too fall in ‘combat,’” she said in a written interview.

Jonathan Deschamps, the president of a union representing several thousands workers, says patient attendants in some homes have described “war zone” conditions.

In some cases, he says an attendant who would generally care for seven residents is left with 20, leaving no time for basic care such as bathing or moving patients to avoid bed sores.

He said that while the government has largely addressed shortages of masks, gowns and gloves, distribution problems remain. Some managers are reluctant to give workers more than two masks per shift, even if theirs get dirty or wet, he says.

The system appears to be running a few steps behind the virus, which can creep in and infect almost a whole ward by the time a patient can be tested and isolated. And just as some locations get outbreaks under control, new ones pop up elsewhere, Deschamps said.

The Quebec government has taken steps to address the staffing issues in long-term care homes, promising to raise pay and address systemic issues surrounding chronic understaffing and poor working conditions.

In the meantime, doctors and nurses reassigned from hospitals and specialty practices have helped fill the gap, as have Canadian Armed Forces personnel such as Pte. Jessy Collison, who has swapped fatigues for scrubs in response to Legault’s request for help.

The 26-year-old military medical technician has being working 12-hour shifts at the Manoir Verdun, where he assists in changing, dressing, and feeding patients, as well as helping with personal care such as shaving and brushing teeth.

While his army training taught him to respond to acute injuries rather than long-term care, he insists he’s happy to help the patient attendants, for whom he expresses respect.

“You see on the news that they’re always understaffed and things like that, but when you get there, they’re still laughing and joking with the residents,” said Collison, who took a geriatrics crash course to prepare him for his role.

“They’re still doing the best they possibly can at all times, and making the residents feel appreciated and making them laugh.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2020

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Marilyn Chidlow. (File photo)
Ponoka figure skating leader celebrated on her birthday

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame celebrated Ponoka inductee Marilyn Chidlow on… Continue reading

Elder Muriel Lee. (Photo submitted)
Maskwacis Elder Mentoring Program connects Elders with young parents

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News The Maskwacis Elders Mentoring Program, which… Continue reading

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Red Fraggle, one of Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock characers, is shown at Time To Play Holiday Show, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children’s puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Lennihan
‘Fraggle Rock’ children’s puppet series reboot starts production in Calgary

A spokesperson says the new series will stream on Apple TV plus

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal collision

Preliminary investigation revealed a south bound pickup truck collided with an eastbound car

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Most Read