Employees moved from one unit to another at Sainte-Dorothée long-term care home, inquiry hears

Employees of the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care home in Laval were often moved from one unit to another, even though they were potential vectors of COVID-19.

Several witnesses testified to this on Wednesday during the coroner's public inquiry into the deaths of elderly or vulnerable people during the first wave of COVID-19.

Claire Montour, president of the CSQ-affiliated Fédération de la santé du Québec, said her union often sounded the alarm on the matter to the Health Ministry.

"We can't work and give care two metres from the patient (...) it's clear that the staff is a vector of transmission," she said.

She said there was "a communication problem," because even if the ministry repeated the message to the institution's management, nothing changed.

IMPOSSIBLE CHOICES

The Director of Human Resources, Communications and Legal Affairs at CISSS Laval, Julie Lamarche, said she was fully aware of the unions' demands, but that she had not been able to avoid having workers move around during April 2020, even though "that was our target."

She explained that she had made "heartbreaking decisions" to avoid a service disruption and thus "save the lives" of residents.

"In April, we were at 67 per cent absence" of staff, she recalled. Many of them were either infected with COVID-19 or waiting for test results.

To try to fill the gap, she said she recruited hundreds of new staff at Sainte-Dorothée from multiple sources. Some were "demoted" from other health-care facilities within the CISSS. Others were working with placement "agencies," volunteered on the "je contribue" platform, were "independent labour" or "retirees" from the health system who came back to help.

However, these new people often had very little experience in a CHSLD and had to be matched with staff who knew the environment. Lamarche explained that she often moved staff around so that "there was at least one experienced person on the floor."

In all, 102 Sainte-Dorothée residents died from COVID-19 during the first wave.

INQUEST BACKGROUND

The coroner's inquest is examining the deaths of elderly or vulnerable people in residential settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which accounted for half of the victims in the first wave. Its objective is not to point fingers, but to make recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

Six CHSLDs and one seniors' residence were designated as a sample. One death is being examined for each facility. Then a national component will also be examined.

This week's hearings focus on the death of Ms. Anna José Maquet on April 3, 2020 at the CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval.

- This article was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and The Canadian Press News Bursaries. This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 23, 2021.

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