The Quebec government has called for a police investigation at a private long-term care facility in western Montreal where Premier Francois Legault said 31 people have died since March 13.
Legault told reporters Saturday that at least five patients at the Residence Herron in Dorval, Que., now under government trusteeship, died after testing positive for COVID-19.
A visibly shaken Legault tried to be prudent with a police probe triggered, but found it difficult to measure his words.
“Quite honestly, I think … there was gross negligence at Residence Herron,” Legault said.
The news came on a long weekend where long-term care homes across the country have been in the spotlight because of troubling reports in Ontario and Quebec.
Legault said Quebec health officials only discovered the magnitude of the problem Friday night after getting an order to access patient files.
“Obviously, it’s huge, 31 deaths in a few weeks,” Legault said, adding an exact tally of how many died of COVID-19 isn’t known. “We know that there are at least five, but we do not have the information for the 26 other patients who died.”
Legault said the owner of the private long-term care residence owns other such homes and they will all be inspected and Health Minister Danielle McCann said 40 other private long-term care homes operating across the province will also receive visits.
Katasa Groupe says on its website it acquired Residence Herron in 2015.
Regional health authorities investigated Residence Herron on March 29, three days after word of the first death. They found the residence “deserted” as staff had walked off the job.
Earlier Saturday, politicians and public health officials promised new measures to further protect long-term care home residents and workers are coming very soon, as facilities caring for some of Canada’s most vulnerable grappled with “horrific” COVID-19 outbreaks over the weekend.
“People who are residents at long-term care homes are a particularly vulnerable group of Canadians and we have been working very closely with the provinces to put in place measures to protect the safety of those people even more,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a Saturday morning news conference.
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She was joined by chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who had a slew of recommendations for long-term care homes, including limiting volunteering to “essential work only,” like feeding residents.
Anyone entering such homes should wear a mask for the duration of their shift or visit, meal times should not involve residents congregating closely together and items used by many people at these facilities should be cleaned and disinfected, she added.
Meanwhile, a group home for adults with disabilities just north of Toronto, Ont., reported that an outbreak there led most personal support workers to walk off the job Thursday.
“These are incredibly horrific reports that we have all been seeing, really heart-wrenching situations,” said Freeland.
She and Tam lauded B.C., which has stopped long-term care home staff from working at multiple facilities in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I am really heartened to see not just B.C., but many other provinces announce some of these stricter measures they are putting in place to protect residents of those facilities,” Tam said.
“This is the moment to really step up on everything we can do.”
Shortly before Freeland and Tam spoke, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer extended his sympathies to anyone in a long-term care home who is experiencing a drop in the quality of care they may be receiving and to the loved ones of the facilities in Quebec and Ontario, where there have been reports of outbreaks, staffing problems and neglected residents.
“As someone who had a parent spend the last few years of her life in a long term care facility, I can absolutely understand where people are coming from (and) the very real heartache that they’re going through when they see their loved ones in the conditions that the reports indicate,” he said.
The incidents, he said, raised important questions about ensuring front-line workers have the protective equipment that they need and that standards are continuing to be met across the country.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also said he was thinking of the health-care workers.
“We are doing everything we can to protect them that will help them protect the most vulnerable and again if I go back to the story in Quebec, it is heart-wrenching,” he said.
“I know it is very, very difficult and until you walk a mile in their shoes, none of us can really appreciate the pressures they are facing on the front lines. How do you leave someone there for two or three days without making it back? How do you human-ly do that?”
—With files from Teresa Wright