Montreal-area long-term care homes begin installing air conditioners as heat subsides

Click to play video: 'Some relief coming for Montreal-area long-term care homes amid unseasonably warm weather' Some relief coming for Montreal-area long-term care homes amid unseasonably warm weather
WATCH: It's been three days of abnormally high temperatures for the month of May in Montreal. Those feeling the heat the most are the elderly living in long-term care homes. But as Global's Dan Spector explains, some much needed relief is on the way – May 28, 2020

Montreal has been experiencing a few days of unseasonably warm weather, prompting concern for vulnerable populations, including seniors in long-term care facilities (CHSLDs).

Looking at the J. Henri Charbonneau long-term care centre in Rosemont, Que., on Thursday, from the outside it’s easy to see the majority of residents do not have air conditioners in their windows.

Patricia Dellanina, 58, lives at the home, and she says she’s experienced the result first-hand.

READ MORE: Quebec long-term care homes grappling with major challenges, military report outlines

“They’re putting us through hell,” she told Global News.

“They don’t want us to turn on the ceiling fans for the old people, and they’re dying of heat.”

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At the Grace Dart Extended Care Centre, many rooms do not have air conditioning.

After weeks of being spared, Anne Leblanc’s 61-year-old sister Madeleine has become infected with COVID-19 and now, she also has to deal with the heat.

“She said it was unbearable. It was like a hot tub,” Anne Leblanc said.

Farrah Lunay works as a nurse at Grace Dart.

She said common areas and nursing stations do have air conditioning, but working in hot rooms while sporting extra protective equipment makes the job difficult.

“It’s really, really hot with the mask, the visor, the gown,” she said, adding that authorities do not allow staff to bring their own water bottles.

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Luc Despatie says usually his company Loue Froid starts installing air conditioners in care homes on May 1.

“This year we’ve started as of today in the seniors’ homes,” Despatie said on Thursday.

The operation was delayed because Quebec was concerned that air conditioners and fans could help spread COVID-19.

It’s a worry that trickled down to the homes themselves.

READ MORE: READ MORE: Weather statement issued for Montreal prompts concerns for vulnerable populations

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Dellanina says she tried to turn on one the air conditioners in the hallway of her floor at J. Henri Charbonneau, hoping the cool air would seep into the residents’ rooms.

“I put one on and they said, ‘who put it on?’ I said ‘I did.’ They said ‘you’re not allowed.’ I said ‘excuse me?” she recounted. She said though her family made sure she has an air conditioner, she wanted to speak up for those who have no one to advocate for them.

On Thursday, things changed. Workers could be seen wheeling air conditioners out of storage at J. Henri Charbonneau. Despatie said since outrage grew about the lack of air conditioning at seniors’ homes in recent days, things have been going at “warp speed.”

There is no scientific consensus on how much air conditioners and fans contribute to the spread of COVID-19, but to Quebec’s public health research institute, the risk is now worth the reward.

READ MORE: Can COVID-19 spread through HVAC systems? Canadian researchers seek to find out

The INSPQ gave Quebec directives on how to safely install and maintain air conditioners on May 25. The East End CIUSSS, the regional health authority, says it only got the go-ahead to install air conditioners on Wednesday.

“Forty air conditioners were installed yesterday, and 40 more today, so COVID is not forcing us to close air conditioners,” said East End CIUSSS spokesperson Christian Merciari.

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The West Island CIUSSS, which is responsible for Grace Dart, says it will use portable air conditioners and floor-standing fans at facilities in its network.

“We will follow up with each facility to ensure that residents staying in both hot and cold areas have access to air-conditioned or dehumidified spaces as quickly as possible,” said West Island CIUSSS spokesperson Jason Patuano.

He added that preventive maintenance of air conditioners in public CHSLDs on their territory had been completed, and government standards had been met.

Lunay said another complication at Grace Dart is that with up to four residents living in one room, sometimes people disagree on whether or not air conditioners should be on.

She feels that the air conditioners in the hallways do help cool down residents’ rooms. In her unit, there are also fewer residents to worry about, because many have died during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It makes me feel sad, because a lot of them were like family,” she said.

Lunay hopes Grace Dart remains disciplined in infection control practices that have been hammered home by the military since they were deployed there, so that COVID-19 doesn’t keep spreading over the summer.

Despatie, the air conditioner installer, feels the government acted far too slowly on air conditioning. He said he’s thankful his own elderly parents passed away last year.

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“I would have never wished them to be in one of these centres,” he said.

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