Hundreds of ill-prepared care homes saw COVID-19 outbreaks in Quebec during the first months of the pandemic, but the Herron Residence’s problems perhaps got more headlines than any other.
The shocking allegations that, in late March, just three employees were left to care for 133 people and that residents were found dehydrated and covered in excrement led to Herron being suspended from the Association of Private Non-Subsidized Seniors’ Homes (AELDPQ).
“We said we would suspend the membership since we heard what was happening, and we didn’t know what was right, what was wrong, what was true, what was false,” explained Mike Nardella, president of the AELDPQ. He said he had not been previously aware of any problems at Herron.
While the suspension happened on April 23, it was only made public this week.
Herron has been the subject of multiple investigations since the spring, including one by Montreal Police and the coroner’s office. On Friday Montreal Police spokesperson Jean-Pierre Brabant told Global News their investigation into possible negligence at Herron has wrapped up, and a decision about possible charges is now in the hands of the Crown prosecutors office (DPCP).
The DPCP did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
A report written by a health ministry-appointed investigator said Herron was continually understaffed, a predicament not exclusive to Herron according to Nardella.
“We have talked about the situation for a lot of years,” he said.
Nardella runs a seniors’ home himself north of Montreal, and says nobody was prepared for COVID-19.
“Twenty-six employees left within five days, so it took us a few days along with health authorities to get back on our feet. That was awful — it was awful for everyone,” he said.
Nardella says it’s hard for facilities that are not subsidized by the government to compete with publicly-funded homes for staff.
“Naturally, our salaries are lower, and to retain employees was a difficult part of daily operations,” he said.
The government has been kicking in a share of salaries during the pandemic, and is looking toward a long-term solution.
“We want to make sure the private system has better support, because they need to better pay their employees,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said Friday.
Nardella wonders if society is ready to face the high cost of taking care of the most vulnerable.
“I don’t think we’re ready to pay, as a population, what it costs to take care of somebody who suffers from Alzheimer’s,” he said, outlining how many patients need five hours of care per day.
Patients’ rights advocate Paul Brunet says it’s not all about money, pointing to the many residences in similar situations that did not have significant outbreaks.
“It’s about people who operate these premises with great values and great determination to have what it takes in terms of resources,” he said.
Herron could not be reached for comment on Friday.