Quebec Places 5 More Long-Term Care Centres Under Watch

April 13, 2020 Updated: April 13, 2020

MONTREAL—Quebec has placed an additional five private long-term care homes under watch amid concerns that they’re not able to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Francois Legault said on April 13.

The province carried out inspections of 40 private establishments over the weekend after learning that 31 residents died in a three-week period at a single home west of Montreal, without the province’s knowledge.

Legault did not identify the potentially deficient residences but said the concerns could include understaffing, a lack of directives regarding protective equipment and management problems.

“We’re monitoring, and we see they may not be in control 100 per cent, and all the directives are not in place as they should be,” he said on April 13.

These directives include meeting care needs, separating infected and healthy patients into hot and cold zones, providing enough protective equipment such as masks and gloves and making contact with the families, he added.

He said the vast majority of private residences are taking good care of patients, and that some of the problems could be due to a shortage of staff that is beyond management’s control.

Canada long-term care home
The entrance to the Almonte Country Haven long-term care home is shown in Almonte, Ont., on April 9, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Legault said the province will now inspect all the province’s 2,600 long-term care facilities, noting that in 30 of them more than 15 percent of residents are infected with the novel coronavirus.

Legault acknowledged that many of the problems in long-term care homes are due to a lack of personnel that began long before the pandemic.

Salaries, he admitted, are too low to attract needed workers, especially in the private sector, which leaves those in place overworked.

He said the province has boosted some orderlies’ hourly pay and is negotiating with unions in regards to longer-term salary hikes but added such negotiations are “complicated.”

A police investigation was launched on the weekend into the deaths at Residence Herron in Dorval, Que., after health authorities learned that 31 people had died there since March 13. At least five of the deaths were due to COVID-19.

The home was placed under government trusteeship after regional health authorities who arrived on the site in late March found it severely understaffed, with residents lacking food and basic personal care.

Health authorities allege the home’s management was uncooperative, forcing them to obtain an order to gain access to patient files.

But on April 13 Legault was asked about letters the home’s owners reportedly sent to health authorities, claiming the home had informed authorities it was short-staffed and accusing the regional health authorities of mishandling the case.

Legault noted that investigations by police, the coroner and the Health Department would eventually determine responsibility, but he said he believed the residence had informed the health authority of a lack of personnel—but not of the dozens of deaths.

“It’s very nice to say, ’I need more workers,’ but to say, ’Hey, I’m at 31 deaths in a couple weeks,’ that’s something very urgent,” Legault said.

The premier said he doesn’t think pervasive problems of low salaries and understaffing should have applied to the Herron residence. He said the home charges its residents between $3,000 and $10,000 a month, which should be more than enough to pay employees a good salary.