Coronavirus: Pre-existing staff shortages exacerbating situation in Quebec long-term care homes

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Quebec Government looking for workers to help struggling long term care centers' Coronavirus: Quebec Government looking for workers to help struggling long term care centers
WATCH: Since Saturday, government officials have visited inspected 40 privately run long term care homes. Most of them are running smoothly, the Premier says, but there have been a few exceptions. As Global's Raquel Fletcher explains, both private and publicly run centers are desperate for help. – Apr 13, 2020

Quebec Premier François Legault provided an update on the province’s novel coronavirus response Monday afternoon after taking a day off on Easter.

The number of COVID-19-related deaths has climbed to 360, while the number of confirmed cases of the illness has reached 13,557.

More than 879 people are hospitalized, with 226 of those in intensive care.

READ MORE: Quebec to receive 250,000 N95 masks as cases approach 13,000

Legault quickly cut to the chase, saying a top priority for the government is rectifying the situation in Quebec’s long-term care homes, which have seen the majority of COVID-19-related deaths in the province.

He confirmed that all 40 privately run care homes in the province had been inspected over the weekend.

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“The vast majority are very well managed, the staff cares properly for the patients but there are a few — four or five — that we are closely monitoring,” he said.

The move comes after a coroner’s inquest was launched at a private long-term care facility in Dorval linked to what Legault has described as a possible case of “gross negligence.”

READ MORE: Quebec coroner to investigate 31 deaths at seniors’ home in Montreal

There have been 31 deaths at the CHSLD Herron in Dorval since March 13. Legault said at least five of the deaths were due to COVID-19, but that number could rise pending investigation.

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Legault said Monday that inspections would be expanded to include all care homes for seniors and that work has already begun.

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He admitted that problems in long-term care facilities, known as CHSLDs in Quebec, were present before the current health crisis.

“It is important to remember that before the crisis, for years, we were having shortages of staff in residences for the elderly,” he said.

READ MORE: Nearly half of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths linked to long-term care facilities, Dr. Tam says

Legault said one of the biggest problems is linked to low wages, which make it difficult to attract new hires.

“Even if we post a lot of positions, we can’t fill them,” he said.

The shortages lead to a domino effect, he said. Not enough staff leads to overburdened workers, making the situation even less attractive.

Legault said his government is hoping to increase the wages of orderlies and attendants by a greater percentage than that of other workers, but traditionally unions ask for an equal percentage for all employees across the board.

“We tried to accelerate things and we are continuing the discussions but it’s not necessarily simple,” Legault said of ongoing negotiations.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus — Montreal school boards address potential loan of staff to health-care sector

In the interim, the government has given out temporary bonuses ranging from an eight per cent increase in remuneration for those working directly with patients and in the private sector an increase of $4 an hour.

Legault said the situation has gotten worse in care homes since the outbreak of novel coronavirus as staff became infected, practised self-isolation after travelling or refused to work in homes with infected residents out of worry for their own health.

While solutions are in the works to deal with pre-existing staff shortages, doctors and nurses are already being transferred from hospital settings to long-term care facilities to address the current crisis.

Additionally, testing is being prioritized among staff and residents wherever there is a suspected case of the illness.

On Friday, Health Minister Danielle McCann signed into effect an order under the Public Health Act that would make it possible for employees working in the education sector (i.e., teachers, professionals, support staff and administrators) to be redeployed to the health sector, should there be a need.

Legault has also asked that a person be designated in each care home to act as a link between residents and family members to facilitate communication and reduce anxiety.

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— With files from Global’s Dan Spector, Kwabena Oduro, Brittany Henriques and the Canadian Press

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