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

Leanne Evans, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Program Coordinator, accepts a donation of $5,000 from Kevin Maxwell manager of Field Support for Telus. (Photo Submitted)
Rimbey Neighbourhood Place making big changes behind the scenes

Rimbey Neighbourhood Place recently recieved a $5,000 donation from Telus

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

The project is expected to create up to 2,920 direct jobs during construction, the federal release said

A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. Tim Hortons is ending the practice of double cupping hot drinks, a move the fast food restaurant says will eliminate hundreds of millions of cups from landfills each year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The end of double cupping: Tim Hortons ditches two cups in favour of one with sleeve

Most recycling facilities in Canada don’t recycle single use paper coffee cups because of a plastic lining

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
VIDEO: Fake news creates serious issues for battling pandemic, chief public health doc says

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share

A narwhal tusk that was donated to a Goodwill store in northwest Calgary this summer will soon be gifted to the Arctic Institute of North America (Hesam Rezaei)
Narwhal tusk discovered in Calgary Goodwill pile to be donated to university

The tusk had federal hunting tags from 1978 attached that say animal was harvested from the central Arctic

(The Canadian Press)
Alberta-raised Cree actor lands role in Disney’s live-action ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’

Tiger Lily is featured in Disney’s 1953 animated “Peter Pan” film

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

Pipeline division owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. will now be required to restore 3,840 hectares of caribou habitat,

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province’s economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Opposition house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP will focus on holding Premier Jason Kenney

Most Read