Coronavirus: Former health minister among doctors helping to fill gap at Quebec care homes

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WATCH: Some of Quebec’s elected officials are rolling up their sleeves to help with the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care homes. As Global’s anne Leclair reports, some members of the National Assembly are doing their part by washing floors and helping nurses. – Apr 20, 2020

A number of medical specialists have stepped up to the plate following calls from Quebec Premier François Legault for help to staff the province’s troubled network of long-term care homes (CHSLDs) as they battle the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Among them is Dr. Gaétan Barrette, who served as health minister from 2014 to 2018 under the previous Liberal government.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Quebec cases surpass 18,000, deaths climb to 877

Barrette, who worked as a radiologist before entering provincial politics, told Global News Morning he felt a duty to help out.

“Look, this is a big call, and I answered the call,” he told Global’s Laura Casella.

On Friday, he started work as an orderly, a job Barrette said he has actually done before.

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“The role of orderly, I did that many many years ago, in my youngest years, when I was a teenager and a young adult,” he explained, adding that the skills the role requires are “not something that’s really changed a lot over the years.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 continues to ravage Quebec seniors’ homes

Barrette, who is 63, would be at an increased risk of complications if he were to contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as a front-line worker. But he said that so long as he and other medical professionals stepping into the CHSLD network are provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE), he isn’t too concerned.

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“My age, the way I am, it’s a bit risky, but if I have the proper PPE, I think I’m going to be fine,” he said. “And that’s the reason why I’m quite confident I won’t catch it — I hope, but we’ll see.”

The La Pinière MNA said that despite him once being in charge of Quebec’s entire health-care network, he has made clear to his new boss he’s just another member of the team.

“I’m there as one of the others, and I’ll do whatever is asked of me,” he said. “And they’re happy with that, obviously.”

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At least two other Liberal MNAs are also working on the front lines. Former hockey player Enrico Ciccone, who is now an MNA for Marquette is reportedly washing floors at CHSLD Nazaire-Piché in Lachine.

Monsef Derraji, MNA for Nelligan, is working at CHSLD Herron in Dorval, where 31 residents recently died in one month.

“We can accept everyone even the Liberal MNAs,” said Paul Brunet from the Conseil de la protection des malades, who welcomes their work but also questions their intentions.

“It might be for political reasons, it might be for good reason but we need everyone in as much as they can do,” said Brunet.

READ MORE: Quebec delays non-urgent care in hospitals to allow medical staff to work in nursing homes

When asked what their elected officials were doing to help with the crisis, other provincial parties said their elected officials decided to stick with their day jobs.

“With the reality in the regions and the size of the ridings, we judge that our MNAs are more efficient working in their offices,” said a statement from the Parti Québécois.

A statement from Québec solidaire explains that while some MNAs considered it, they chose to stay in the office instead. “They (MNAs) feel more useful and trained to solve the problems of their constituents.”​

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While Barrette believes the situation is getting better, he admits he and his colleagues will soon have to go back to work, as politicians.

“My understanding is that government will be back to regular work in some form and some matter by May 4,” said Barrette, adding that he expects to have to attend virtual meetings as early as next week.

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