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Quebec workers pay tribute to Grace Dart patient attendant who died of COVID-19

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Situation in Quebec long-term care homes remains critical' Coronavirus: Situation in Quebec long-term care homes remains critical
Last week, a longtime patient attendant at the Grace Dart Extended Care Centre in Montreal's east end died after contracting COVID-19.

Workers at the understaffed and overwhelmed Grace Dart Extended Care Centre take a moment to pay tribute to their fallen colleague Victoria Salvan on Friday.

They walked to the windows of the facility in full protective gear and held a moment of silence.

After decades of working gruelling hours caring for those who can’t care for themselves, Salvan died of COVID-19 last week, Quebec’s first patient attendant to be killed by the virus.

“Every day, I’m crying,” said Farrah Lunay, a licensed practical nurse at Grace Dart. “Every day I wake up, I see her face.”

Lunay has worked at Grace Dart since 2003 and got to know Salvan well.

“When she was tired, I used to massage her shoulders,” Lunay told Global News.

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READ MORE: Quebecers experiencing ‘2 different worlds’ as coronavirus crisis strikes long-term care homes, premier says

Like many, she observed a moment of silence in Salvan’s honour alone at her home. Feeling sick, tired and exhausted, she’s one of the thousands of health-care workers off the job right now. She usually worked the night shift from 11:30 p.m. to 7:45 a.m., but those shifts have frequently been longer.

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“The other day, I had to stay because nobody came to work in the morning. People refuse to come. I don’t know where they are,” she said.

Anne Leblanc’s 61-year-old sister Madeleine lives at Grace Dart.

She does not have COVID-19, though one of her three roommates caught the virus and it took staff a full day to remove her from their room. Thursday evening, Anne Leblanc says there was just one nurse taking care of Madeleine’s entire floor.

“I pray every day the workers there will get some help,” Leblanc said. “Truthfully, I just keep waiting for them to call me and tell me she’s got it and then that she died.”

She keeps seeing the province promise reinforcements to seniors’ homes, and then not seeing any tangible results at Grace Dart.

“Madeleine was crying to me and I just felt so helpless, so overwhelmed. I just couldn’t believe they still don’t have people in there to help them,” Leblanc said.

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After Global News alerted health authorities about the staff shortage Thursday night, they said they mobilized more people to go help. The Red Cross could be seen entering Grace Dart Friday.

“Ensuring there are enough people to serve the patients continues to be a real issue,” said Grace Dart staff union representative Stephen Brown.

“I change whoever I can and the rest I give to the day shift, but I didn’t know the day shift was not coming,” said Lunay.

After last weekend, she started feeling feverish and got tested for COVID-19. She stayed home as she awaited the results, unsure if the symptoms were due to the virus or her sheer exhaustion. On Thursday, she found out she tested negative.

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

Leblanc said her sister hesitates to ask for basic needs. Her colostomy bag was full last night, but Madeleine had to be convinced to ask for help from the lone nurse on her floor.

“She said, ‘well, I don’t want to disturb them, they’re so overwhelmed,'” said Anne Leblanc.

Madeleine has not been able to walk since she was struck by a drunk driver at six years old.

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“She’s battled so hard her whole life, if she succumbs to COVID, really what was all the point all along?” Leblanc said.

As the nurses and families try to cope, the Premier François Legault mused about Quebec taking over all seniors’ homes.

“I want to make sure that in the future we’ll have nice places with a lot more space,” Legault said at his daily press conference. “We’ll have a lot more nurses and workers. I want to make sure the quality of service is the best. I think our elderly, we owe that to them.”