As Maimonides outbreak worsens, families ask why stronger measures weren't taken

maimonides ctv montreal

By Angela Mackenzie, CTV reporter

Annetta Black was finally able to resume visiting her father last week at a care home in Côte-St-Luc.

It would have been heartbreaking enough on its own, she said.

“It was just devastating, because he was… shell-shocked,” she said of her father, Harvey, who has Parkinson’s disease and lives in the Maimonides Geriatric Centre. 

“It's almost like he'd forgotten that family visits.” 

But what’s equally upsetting has been seeing firsthand, and in real time, how the facility has been struggling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, and exactly how the virus quickly outpaced the measures meant to contain it. More than two months into the pandemic, families say they're alarmed that more wasn't done to get the situation under control.

Cases at Maimonides nearly doubled just over the weekend, to 36. By Tuesday afternoon, they had more than doubled again, with 77 confirmed cases and 12 deaths, said the CIUSSS for central-west Montreal, which oversees Maimonides.

The centre had set up dedicated “hot zones” in the building, including a synagogue and gym—but it quickly ran out of beds in those zones.

So in an email on Sunday, the health authority told families that COVID patients from one floor—the seventh floor—would be returned there.

“Instead of taking them downstairs, they were going to treat each bedroom as its own separate unit,” as a series of tiny hot zones each requiring its own protective gear protocols, said Black. 

It “understandably made people very upset,” she said—because other residents were still living on that floor.

The CIUSSS confirmed in a statement that it had returned infected patients to the seventh floor. The rest of the facility’s COVID patients are contained in the separate hot zones, such as the synagogue, the statement said.

Residents on the seventh floor who tested negative, but who are showing signs of illness, will be considered to be in a “warm zone,” the CIUSSS explained.

Despite the residents all remaining on the same floor, they will be treated by separate warm-zone staff and hot-zone staff who will not treat each other’s patients.

“The hot zones are getting expanded as the needs increase,” said the CIUSSS.

For other families with loved ones at Maimonides, getting that email on Sunday was frightening. Ilan Rose says he can’t understand how things got so bad so quickly, and can’t feel confident that the virus won’t spread to other floors.

His mother, Joan, is so far COVID-free.

“I'm extremely concerned that we're not taking every measure possible to keep my mother and every resident safe,” Rose said.

Several staff members have now tested positive, the CIUSSS has confirmed. Rose wants to know why all staff weren’t tested immediately after the first case was reported at the facility in April. 

The directive to begin testing asymptomatic employees only came on April 25, said the CIUSSS in its statement. Before, since the beginning of the pandemic, only symptomatic staff got tests.

But in the days after April 25, there wasn’t enough capacity to test all staff right away, the CIUSSS suggested in its statement.

“Our CIUSSS immediately complied with the new directive, starting with the facilities that had the largest outbreaks, to take into account the testing capacity of our microbiology laboratory,” it said.

In the meantime, all staff are told to behave as if they are positive—they’re supposed to keep on their protective equipment at all times, wash hands, stay on their units and keep two metres from each other when on break or arriving at work. 

Health Minister Danielle McCann tried to alleviate worries at a press briefing earlier this week, saying “the situation is under control—it’s on a particular floor.” No deaths had been reported at the time. 

But Rose said he wanted to see frequent, mandatory testing of all staff and other caregivers. He says what families are told by staff often contradicts what the CIUSSS and the province say.

“There's a lot of confusion, and maybe it's not fair to blame the CIUSSS or the management, because they're also getting contradictory information from higher levels in the government,” he said.

“But it is our loved ones who are paying the price.”

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