Thérèse Perreault hasn’t seen her mother since the government banned visits to seniors homes on March 17.
Her mother, Gisèle Lemire, is 91 and suffers from Alzheimer’s. She moved into the CHSLD Saint-Henri long-term care home on March 4, after having spent months in a rehab centre after a fall.
Perreault had been helping to care for her mother daily, going in to visit, feed and soothe her. She isn’t just any ordinary caregiver, she’s a neonatal intensive care doctor at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and the former head of the NICU there.
Since the COVID-19 crisis hit seniors’ homes, she’s offered her help almost daily to the CHSLD, not just with her mother but any other patients who need care.
But her offers of help have been turned down.
“I am extremely frustrated, but I would say above all, extremely sad that we let this happen,” she said.
Dr. Perreault says she’s been satisfied with the level of care her mother has been receiving at the CHSLD, believing the staff are doing their best.
Her mother’s CHSLD has also been spared the worst with the COVID-19 crisis, with only four current cases, three deaths and 174 residents. But it’s a new place for her mother, and she’s been suffering from anxiety, wondering where her daughter is.
“She has become more and more anxious, having sleeping difficulties. Obviously when I am around this is something I can do very well, because she has full confidence in me. I am the only person she recognizes,” she said.
“This is not the way it should be, because elderly need support from caregivers.”
Almost 80 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Quebec have happened in long-term care and seniors’ residences. Premier François Legault has implored people to go and work in seniors home, saying several thousand workers were needed.
On April 15, the government relaxed its rules concerning caregivers on a regional and case-by-case basis.
The CHSLD Saint-Henri is in the Centre-South CIUSSS regional health network. A spokesperson wouldn’t comment specifically on Dr. Perreault’s case, but said it is moving cautiously with the directive to allow caregivers in to help.
In a statement, spokesman Jean-Nicolas Aubé said:
“Given the current situation and public health recommendations, our CIUSSS has made the difficult decision not to authorize the presence of caregivers in our CHSLDs for the moment.
“However, we are studying the possibility of allowing the return of some caregivers who would come to provide care in our CHSLDs. We do not have a specific date at this time for a possible return of caregivers.”
Experts who work with the elderly say the CHSLD must move faster to accommodate caregivers.
“The local CHSLDs really should make the effort to start to comply with the new regulations and allow these various persons to go in and provide care,” said Dr. Jose Morais, the chief of geriatrics for the McGill University Heatlh Centre (MUHC).
“They should be allowed to go in and care for their loved ones. They are doing an indispensable work for the health care system.”
Dr. Morais says caregivers are vital, and play an important role in ensuring the elderly are well taken care of and aren’t lonely.
“They have an incredible impact on the person’s life. They provide moral support, prevent isolation,” he said.
“They are someone they can connect with, so for all of these reasons they should be allowed to go in and do their care-giving role. The absence of that loved figure, person, family member, it’s terribly suffering for them.”
Perreault compares the elderly to the newborns she cares for.
“I work in pediatrics. We would never in pediatrics exclude parents form the care of their children. I have become over the years the mother of my mother, so I don’t know why I can’t be there.
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