CHSLD Herron inquest: Nurse says there was a lack of staff and equipment before COVID-19 pandemic


At the coroner's hearings on the CHSLD Herron, a nurse who worked there as director of care before COVID-19 reported a lack of staff and equipment that was rampant there before the pandemic.

Véronique Bossé, a nurse at CHUM, worked as director of care at the Herron residence from September 2019 to January 2020. 

On Monday, before the coroner Géhane Kamel, she said that when she arrived at the CHSLD Herron, there were five washcloths for 15 residents and three quilts for 140 users.

Even then, there was a shortage of caregivers, she said.

"The staff-to-resident ratio was not adequate. The staff turnover was incredible and they were underpaid for the work they had to do," she said.

What's more, the staff was unilingual English, while many of the elderly residents were French-speaking, she lamented.

The nurse attributed the lack of staff to salaries. She recalled a wage of $12 an hour for orderlies at the time, in 2019.

When she told Herron management that more staff were needed, that existing staff were overwhelmed, she was told "it costs so much."

In front of the coroner, she wondered aloud about the profit motive in private residences: "Why did it have to be as expensive as it is, at the expense of the quality and care of the elderly?"

In fact, the union that represents thousands of orderlies in Quebec, the Syndicat québécois des employés de service, affiliated with the FTQ, even went on strike in several institutions at the time, demanding $15 an hour.

A work contract was signed at Herron, shortly after Bossé's arrival, giving them about $14 an hour. There was a strike in 2019, before COVID-19. But even when they were on strike, they had to work 90 per cent of their hours because of the essential services provisions. In reality, they could only walk off the job for a few minutes, she confirmed.


Bossé's testimony is particularly interesting because her own mother was a resident of Herron with Alzheimer's disease. Her mother passed away during the first wave of COVID-19.

Again, she pointed to the fact that her mother had to be hospitalized for dehydration, even before COVID-19.

By the time the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the nurse had already left her position at Herron for CHUM. When she checked on her mother around March 28, she was told not to worry, that there were no cases on her mother's floor.

Yet, around April 3, she was told that her mother had COVID-19, even though she had not been tested. The staff assumed she had it because doctors were instructed not to enter the rooms, she reported.

Bossé then requested an IV for her mother as part of end-of-life care.

The next morning, she called a nurse at Herron to ask about her mother's condition. The nurse didn't even know who she was talking about.

"No, I'm in charge of important cases," she said. "Then she hung up on me," said a tearful Bossé.

On April 7, her mother passed away.

"In my mind, she died of thirst, of hunger. Also, her oxygen tank was empty," she said. "She ran out of oxygen."

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 13, 2021. 


Breaking News alerts, info on contests, and special offers from partners