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Coronavirus: Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to care homes in Quebec

Coronavirus outbreak: Reinforcements arrive in Montreal to help in long-term care facilities
WATCH: Members of the Canadian Armed Forces were on the ground at a long term-care facility in Laval on Monday. As Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, the troop’s participation is part of Operation Laser -- the forces’ response to the coronavirus pandemic

In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic response has been likened to fighting a war, with health-care workers on the front lines.

In Quebec, long-term care homes known has CHSLDs have been ravaged by the illness.

In Montreal, the epicentre of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Quebec, the majority of care homes are dealing with outbreaks.

Staff shortages due to pre-existing conditions and compounded by the virus have made the situation worse, but reinforcements have arrived, with the Canadian Armed Forces answering Quebec’s call for federal help to deal with outbreaks in nursing homes.

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

“The Canadian government, in concert with the Quebec government and the MSSS, determined that our support would be valuable to assist the Quebec government in this crisis,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Heather Galbraith on Monday.

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Galbraith normally works as a family physician in Ontario, but is part of a medical team from the Canadian Forces that have been deployed as part of Operation LASER, the forces’ response to the pandemic.

Galbraith is one of 14 members who will be assisting at the Villa Val des Arbres CHSLD in Laval.

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“We live here, they are our people and we are here to help,” said Cpl. Matthieu Bergeron.

Canadian armed forces deployed to Quebec long term care homes amid COVID-19 crisis
Canadian armed forces deployed to Quebec long term care homes amid COVID-19 crisis

A total of five medical teams, made up of doctors, nurses and medical technicians, have been deployed in and around Montreal.

Over the weekend, Galbraith was taking part in a reconnaissance mission, assessing the needs of the various homes on the ground.

“They go in five long-term care facilities and that’s extremely helpful,” said Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann.

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The teams will mostly help out with daily tasks.

“So toileting, feeding, grooming, walking, assistance,” Bergeron said.

READ MORE: Close quarters at Montreal long-term care facility worry resident, family

While some have experience working with the elderly, working in a care home is a new experience for most.

“Oh absolutely, it is most certainly unusual,” Bergeron said.

Working amid a pandemic makes the work all the more challenging.

“You add, pardon my language, a pesky bug that we are learning day to day more and more about, and you’re in a different realm,” said Galbraith.

It is not known how long the deployment will last, but Bergeron is bracing for the work ahead.

“Well, we barely got in and we were already working knees-deep in it,” he said

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

On Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault reiterated the need for more staff, calling on medical specialists to commit to working full-time in nursing homes for a two-week period.

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As a result, the province is delaying all non-urgent care in hospitals in order to allow more health-care workers to work seniors residences.

— With files from Global’s Phil Carpenter and Kalina Laframboise