Quebec missed 'numerous' opportunities to improve healthcare services for seniors during deadly first wave of COVID-19

During the onset of the pandemic, Quebec missed “numerous” opportunities to alleviate “excessively serious” consequences for seniors living in long-term care homes.

That’s according to Thursday’s preliminary report from Quebec's Health and Welfare Commissioner Joanne Castonguay.

The provincial government requested Castonguay investigate Quebec’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which in her report she calls “one of the worst crises that modern Quebec has ever known, if not the most serious of all.”

In her report, Castonguay recalled that during the first wave of the pandemic, before Aug. 13, 2020, the coronavirus claimed the lives of 5,745 people.

Of those deaths, approximately 90 per cent occurred in elder-care environments.

Those spaces included public and private facilities, as well as long-term elderly care units in hospitals.

The investigation examines why the province’s long-term care homes and health services for the elderly were unprepared to handle the pandemic.

The commissioner identified several key issues plaguing healthcare and support services for seniors.

According to the report, “fragmented” record keeping has made it difficult to hold healthcare providers accountable.

Without more precise documentation, Quebec’s Health and Wellbeing Commission (CSBE) “questions” whether services could have been improved.

“Without reliable and timely data and without an efficient assessment of the quality of care and services offered to the elderly, the government cannot make informed decisions,” wrote Castonguay in a Thursday news release.


What’s more, the commissioner says decades of studies into senior services have provided insight into the province’s shortcomings, yet not enough has been done to address them.

Issues of understaffing and a lack of integrated services “were known for a long time,” she wrote, “and the crisis has exacerbated them.”

“[Why hadn't Quebec] adopted these solutions before the crisis?” asked Castonguay. “I sincerely wish to bring a promising light on this question.”


Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé thanked the commissioner in a news release Thursday.

“The report released today is a first step in [the commission’s] analysis of the functioning of our health network,” he said.

“Several elements contained in this report have already been implemented in the management of the second and third waves of the pandemic.”

Thursday’s release includes just a portion of the study. A final report, which is expected to include recommendations to improve the health-care system, is set to be released on Dec. 30, 2021.

-- With files from the Canadian Press.


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