A look inside a long-term care home recovering from a COVID-19 outbreak

Some semblance of normalcy has returned for residents of Laval’s Villa Val des Arbres, a long-term care home recovering from a widespread outbreak of COVID-19.

Now that patients inside the home are stable and staff recovered from illness are returning to work, the home is tasked with the reality of adjusting to life after the outbreak, armed with the knowledge that it will never be the same.

“Did we do everything we should have done to prevent [the virus]? The answer is yes,” co-owner Pierre Belanger told CTV News. “How did the nasty bug come in? We still don’t know.”

Villa Val des Arbres is one of many long-term care homes in Quebec devastated by the pandemic. Located in the suburb of Laval, now considered the latest hotspot for the virus, employees say the care home was transformed into a makeshift hospital at the height of the outbreak, with up to six patients dying every day.

Employees also fell ill, leaving only a quarter of the home’s staff available to care for the more than 80 residents who tested positive for the virus.

“We were feeding people until 9:30 at night so they could eat. Everyone stayed in bed, we couldn’t get them up,” Sophie Dorion, director at Villa Val des Arbres, told CTV News.

“Everybody was crying—we had no employees.”

Anne-Marie Vincent, an employee who became sick with COVID-19, said she and many others were overwhelmed with guilt for not being able to provide care. Vincent, who became so ill she was hospitalized, said she felt “useless” and cried after her colleagues would tell her which residents were positive and who had died.

Fifty-three residents at the home have since died from COVID-19.

But these stories are not unique to Villa Val des Arbres.

At Laval’s Sainte-Dorothée, staff describe the last few weeks as hell on earth. Ninety residents there have died, according to the latest government update—the most of any Quebec long-term care home.

“We had a patient that didn’t die but was traumatized, because they left a dead body beside him for almost a day before they came and picked him up,” Sylvie Morin, assistant head nurse at the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care home, told CTV Montreal.

Advocates say these deaths happened for “no good reason” in some cases, noting that some provinces, Quebec included, didn’t move as quickly as they should have to protect vulnerable residents in care homes.

“We know that some of the important things that we need to do have not been done in Quebec, so we’re seeing a terrible loss in life,” Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, Canada's national seniors' advocacy organization, told CTV News Channel Friday.

“But we’re also very frustrated because we’re not getting some of the supports for long-term care to save some of those lives.”

Watts says many long-term care homes lack the sanitation and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to curtail outbreaks, noting that changes in protocol need to take place immediately to protect the residents that remain in these homes.

“We’re losing mothers, fathers, grandparents every day,” she said.

“We don’t want to wait for an inquiry to do the things that we already know we need to do.”

Watts says long-term care providers need to move to provide vaccinations, such as high-dose flu vaccinations, to residents in order to prevent an “epidemic on top of a pandemic.” She notes that long-term care workers also need to be given better incentives to stay in the field, including access to proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and essential worker designation.

“Being deemed essential comes with responsibility too. We need to keep our workers safe,” she said. 

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