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Nurses brought Vigi-Santé to court in bid to get better protection for staff at Vigi Mont-Royal

Dire COVID-19 situation at Vigi Mont-Royal long-term care home
WATCH: Dire COVID-19 situation at Vigi Mont-Royal long-term care home

Vigi Mont-Royal has been one of the seniors homes hardest hit by COVID-19 in Montreal, but in early May, the FIQ nurses’ union says things reached a boiling point.

“All the patients were positive. Not even one was not positive,” said FIQ vice-president Denyse Joseph.

She said 68 patients have died of COVID-19 at Vigi Mont-Royal since the beginning of the pandemic.

With dozens of regular staff at home with COVID-19, the West-Central CIUSSS sent people to help care for the home’s 273 residents.

“After one day of working there, they were coming back with symptoms, testing positive for COVID-19,” Joseph said.

“This rang a bell.”

The union was worried not enough was being done by ownership to protect employees, not just at Vigi Mont Royal, but other Vigi-owned residences, like Vigi Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Vigi Reine-Elizabeth.

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Joseph said Vigi Mont Royal had not set up proper “hot zones,” to keep COVID-19 patients isolated.

READ MORE: Staff infected at Vigi Mont-Royal seniors’ residence after ventilation system malfunction

“[They] were not put in place by the employer. He had refused, he was not giving protective equipment to staff, no N95 masks for staff, no kit testing for staff,” she said.

The nurses called on the Quebec workplace safety board (CNESST) to look into working conditions.

“An inspector intervened to verify the application of the workplace health and safety law, and prevention measures to control the risk of COVID-19,” CNESST spokesperson Audréane Lafrenière told Global News.

Lafrenière said the CNESST made recommendations to Vigi, but Joseph said that was not enough.

“The CNESST did not make any obligation, or sanction the employer for not following recommendations,” Joseph claims.

Mont-Royal Senior’s residence tackling ventilation system amidst covid19 outbreak
Mont-Royal Senior’s residence tackling ventilation system amidst covid19 outbreak

When staff started to get sick in large numbers, heavier protective gear, including scarce N95 masks, were rushed over to Vigi Mont-Royal by the Centre-West CIUSSS.

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On May 8, the CIUSSS sent a memo to all staff announcing an investigation.

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“In light of the of prevalence of COVID-19 amongst experienced healthcare workers deployed to Vigi Mont Royal, an onsite investigation by infection prevention and control under the direction of Dr. Longtin is underway,” read the letter.

All staff and the dozens of Canadian Forces soldiers on-site started wearing the enhanced protective equipment, including N95s and cowls.

READ MORE: West Island seniors’ residence, health authorities not ready for family caregivers’ help

When CIUSSS investigators figured out that the air filtration system was malfunctioning, fears grew that the virus was airborne inside. An air quality specialist analyzed the air, and the CIUSSS claims the ventilation system was repaired.

Joseph said things changed after the May 8 memo.

“That’s where the employer, Vigi-Santé Mont Royal, decided to take action, because he knew there would be bad sanctions and he was not doing the proper things to protect staff and patients,” she said.

This past Monday, the nurses then brought Vigi Santé to court, seeking an injunction that would force them to inspect the air systems at all its residences, and provide better protective equipment.

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“We had to go to court to have proof that the employer was not doing anything, not protecting staff, not protecting patients,” explained Joseph.

A judge rejected the injunction request, saying most of the demands were already being done by Vigi by the time it had been filed. The judge did confirm that Vigi would have to send the results of air quality tests to the union.

In a statement Thursday, Vigi Santé said it had ordered air quality tests at all of its 15 establishments, even though 11 of the 15 do not have COVID-19 cases.

“Although the results for Vigi Mont-Royal and Vigi Reine-Élizabeth show that these establishments fully comply with standards, Vigi Santé continues to take the situation very seriously,” Vigi said.

It is still waiting for air quality results from Vigi Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Vigi Pierrefonds, which have 41 and 19 cases of COVID-19, respectively, according to the latest numbers from Quebec.

On Monday, the West Island CIUSSS told Global News 66 people had died of COVID-19 at Vigi DDO since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said the malfunctioning ventilation system could be a possible factor contributing to the high rate of infection at Vigi Mont Royal, but it’s likely not the only one.

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“I think there’s probably other factors related to the difficulty to apply infection prevention controls,” said Horacio Arruda.

“There’s a lot of objects to clean, less people working — they had pressure so they probably did not apply the things correctly.”

Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal’s public health director, said public health agents are investigating the Vigi Mont Royal situation.

“All the outbreaks we are seeing, they are complex to control, because applying the gold standards for PCI (infection prevention controls) in those establishments is quite complex. Ventilation may be one factor,” Drouin explained.

The Canadian Armed Forces say none of the over 50 soldiers deployed at Vigi Mont Royal have shown COVID-19 symptoms.

“Nobody is sick. None of our military personnel is sick,” said Capt. Frederic Caron on Thursday.

More soldiers are being sent to Vigi Mont-Royal, so everyone is able to take a break every two hours now, as the heavier protective equipment causes staff to overheat faster.

“It’s extremely tiring for the guys, so we make sure they have the proper rest so they don’t get complacent,” said Caron.