Military reports staffing, protective equipment still issues in provincial long-term care homes

CBC – Patients in CHSLDs account for more than 60% of deaths in province. A report prepared by the Canadian military about Quebec’s long-term care homes says the division between “hot” and “cold” zones, proper use of protective equipment and staffing shortages remain major challenges in the facilities.

The report was shared with the Quebec government Tuesday night and made public Wednesday, on the heels of a separate, more damning report a day earlier about conditions in Ontario.

The Quebec report provides an account of the conditions in 25 homes where members of the military have been assisting during the pandemic.

In many cases, the military describes how equipment and staffing were inadequate when they arrived but have since improved.

Military helped train staff

More than 60 per cent of deaths related to COVID-19 in Quebec have occurred in CHSLDs. Nearly a third of the facilities in the province are currently battling outbreaks. 

Workers on the front lines have described chaos inside the homes, including a lack of protective equipment for staff and for residents who had not yet caught the disease.

Soldiers first arrived in Quebec in mid-April, as the crisis unfolded. Since then, according to the report, the situation has improved, though some problems persist.

Narcotic medications gone, not enough orderlies

For example, at Vigi Mont-Royal, another Montreal residence, the report notes a shipment of narcotic medications seemed to have disappeared, and care units were short of supplies of some items.

“A lack of medical equipment is often noted during shift changes, and the soldiers had to intervene several times to offer solutions to allow the nursing staff to do their work safely,” the report says.

According to the report, there still aren’t enough patient attendants, who provide much of the basic care in the homes.

At CHSLD de la Rive, in Laval, the report noted a persistent shortage of staff, saying “most of the people who work at the centre are volunteers with little or no CHSLD experience.”

More than 1,675 troops have been deployed to long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario to help with residents’ day-to-day needs, to clean the facilities and distribute meals.

Military ‘not a long-term solution’

The Canadian military’s report on Ontario detailed allegations of elder abuse in five Ontario long-term care homes, describing residents being bullied, improperly fed and in some cases left for hours or even days in soiled bedding.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford described the report as “gut-wrenching.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday the federal government will be part of reforms to improve conditions in Quebec and Ontario as they try to “regain control of their systems.”

“Obviously the report highlights a number of preoccupying issues,” he said, adding there will be a need for “much longer conversations” about how to ensure seniors get better care.

“We’re very lucky to have the military, but it’s not a long-term solution.”

Trudeau deeply disturbed about reports on long-term care homes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the report underscores the need to improve standards of care for seniors in long-term care homes across the country, and said the federal government will support the provinces’ efforts to do that going forward. Long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction.

“We need to do a better job of caring for the people who built this country,” Trudeau said.

“The greatest generation saw us through World War Two. We need to be there to support them properly through this global crisis.”

Over 1,675 troops have been brought in to backstop five long-term care homes in Ontario and a further 25 in Quebec. Their duties include helping residents with day-to-day needs, cleaning the facilities and meal distribution.

It is unclear whether similar abuse allegations have been levelled at long-term care facilities in Quebec. The federal Public Safety department has said a similar assessment is being prepared for that much larger operation.

Trudeau said Ontario and Quebec have asked that the deployment of troops in long-term care homes be extended until the end of June.

Quebec’s long-term care homes struggle with heat during pandemic

People with chronic physical or mental health conditions and the elderly are especially vulnerable to high heat and humidity.

With the COVID-19 pandemic also impacting people with disabilities and those over 70, long-term care homes are facing a doubly challenging situation: how to deal with the heat while preventing further spread of the novel coronavirus.

1/3 of rooms with A/C

Fewer than a third of the rooms have air conditioning in the province’s long-term care institutions (known as CHSLDs), where the majority of cases with complications and most of the COVID-19 deaths have occurred.

Premier François Legault has said 97 percent of CHSLDs have at least one zone that is air-conditioned — but shared spaces indoors are off-limits in the institutions, because of the risk of spreading the virus.

Health Minister Danielle McCann acknowledged the pandemic makes it difficult to offer residents a place to cool off.

“It’s going to be more complicated this year,” she said.

Facilities will have to be careful not to mix those who have COVID-19 and those who don’t, she said.


A version of this story was published in the May 29 print issue for Parc-Extension News. Click here to read the full issue.