Coronavirus: Quebec prioritizing care for seniors in hard-hit long-term care homes

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec continues to climb, so to do the fatalities.

On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault said the province’s death toll had reached 150.

Seniors over the age of 70 account for 98 per cent of deaths related to the illness, the numbers highlighting the vulnerability of the province’s elderly population.

Nearly half of them lived in government-run long-term care facilities known as CHSLD, while another 20 per cent were residents in other seniors’ facilities.

Seniors’ homes and care facilities across the province have become hot spots for the virus.

In Montreal, public health authorities say there are currently 39 outbreaks in both CHLSDs and seniors’ residences out of 294 establishments.

The Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre, in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, is one such residence that has been hit hard by the pandemic.

“As of this morning, we have 24 cases that were positive and we’ve had 22 negative tests,” said Dr. Mark Karanofsky, an attending physician at the home.

Some worried family members have opted to pull their loved ones out of care homes, fearing they’d contract the illness.

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Marcela Wierny moved her Parkinson’s-affected mother form the Jewish eldercare home last Friday, after learning someone had tested positive for COVID-19 in the residence.

She learned of the case from her mother and then called the residence where a nurse confirmed it.

So far, one resident has died, and another has been hospitalized.

The CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, which oversees the care home, said “hot zones” have been set up at all its long-term care facilities to isolate affected residents and prevent the spread of the infection.

Measures are also in place for when residents are tested.

“They should receive a daily phone call from one of the staff to update them on how their loved one is doing,” Karanofsky said.

However, some frustrated family members told Global News they’ve been kept in the dark about what is going on.

Karanofsky admitted keeping all families up to date has been challenging due to a lack of staff, but said that should change soon.

“In the next coming days, we’ve recruited eight medical students to help communicate with all the residents’ families who are not affected,” Karanofsky said.

Provisions are also being made to allow more video chats between residents and family members.

Karanofsky said they are now testing all residents on any floor where there has been a coronvirus infection, rather than only testing those with symptoms.

On Tuesday, Quebec Health Minster Danielle McCann addressed concerns seniors in care homes were being left to die.

“Oh my god no, we’re doing everything we can to protect the elderly and I can assure the families of those people who are in the CHSLD that no effort is let go,” she said.

The government admitted that in its response to the crisis, it had overestimated the number of people that would require hospitalization and underestimated the number of people who to be cared for in seniors’ homes.

Staff will now be moved from hospitals to long-term care facilities, as part of the government’s latest strategy to provide care to those who need it.

“We’re putting nurses who are prevention of infection nurses, physicians, I’ve spoken to the president of the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec and family doctors are going to help,” McCann said.

Quebec’s director of public health, Horacio Arruda, says there could also be testing done in long-term care facilities.

“It could be an approach depending on the rate of contamination to test everybody, personnel and also residents and provide a little peace of mind to worried families across Quebec.”

— With files from Global’s Gloria Henriquez and Phil Carpenter. 

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