Coronavirus: Pre-existing staff shortages worsen situation in long-term care homes in Quebec


The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, took stock of the province’s new intervention against coronaviruses Monday afternoon after a day off at Easter.

The number of deaths related to COVID-19 has increased to 360, while the number of confirmed cases of the disease has reached 13,557.

More than 879 people are hospitalized, including 226 in intensive care.

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Legault quickly set course, declaring that an absolute priority for the government was to rectify the situation in long-term care homes in Quebec, which experienced the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the province.

He confirmed that the 40 private nursing homes in the province were inspected over the weekend.

“The vast majority are very well managed, the staff take good care of the patients but there are a few – four or five – that we monitor closely,” he said.

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The move comes after a coroner’s inquest was launched in a private long-term care facility in Dorval, linked to what Legault described as a possible case of “gross negligence”.

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There have been 31 deaths at CHSLD Herron in Dorval since March 13. Legault said at least five of the deaths were due to COVID-19, but that number may increase pending the investigation.

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Legault said on Monday that inspections would be expanded to include all nursing homes for the elderly and that work has already started.

He admitted that the problems in long-term care facilities, called CHSLDs in Quebec, were present before the current health crisis.

“It is important to remember that before the crisis, for years, we had staff shortages in residences for the elderly,” he said.

Legault said one of the biggest problems is related to low wages, which makes it difficult to attract new hires.

“Even though we post a lot of positions, we cannot fill them,” he said.

Shortages have a domino effect, he said. Insufficient staff leads to overworked workers, which makes the situation even less attractive.

Legault said his government hopes to raise the wages of caregivers and attendants by a higher percentage than that of other workers, but unions have traditionally demanded an equal percentage for all employees.

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“We have tried to speed things up and we are continuing discussions, but it is not necessarily simple,” said Legault of the ongoing negotiations.

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In the meantime, the government has granted temporary bonuses ranging from an 8% increase in the compensation of those working directly with patients, to an increase of $ 4 an hour.

Legault said the situation has worsened in nursing homes since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, staff having been infected, practicing self-isolation after traveling or refusing to work in homes with residents infected with concern for their own health.

While solutions are underway to deal with pre-existing staff shortages, doctors and nurses are already being transferred from hospitals to long-term care facilities to deal with the current crisis.

In addition, screening is a priority among staff and residents whenever there is a suspected case of the disease.

Minister of Health Danielle McCann on Friday signed an order under the Public Health Act that would allow employees working in the education sector (ie teachers, professionals, support staff and administrators) to be redeployed to the health sector, should there be a need.

Legault also requested that a person be designated in each nursing home to link residents and family members to facilitate communication and reduce anxiety.

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– With files from Dan Spector from Global, Kwabena Oduro, Brittany Henriques and The Canadian Press

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