Quebec coroner postpones inquiry into COVID-19 related deaths at Herron residence until September

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Families will have to wait for answers as coroner’s inquest into Herron deaths delayed'
Coronavirus: Families will have to wait for answers as coroner’s inquest into Herron deaths delayed
WATCH: Families will have to wait for answers as coroner's inquest into Herron deaths delayed – Feb 16, 2021

Public hearings on what unfolded at the Residence Herron will be postponed until September as part of a wider coroner’s inquest into coronavirus-related deaths at long-term care homes in Quebec.

Coroner Géhane Kamel announced her decision Tuesday morning to delay the hearings on the long-term care home (CHSLD) in Dorval. The Herron was one of the hardest-hit facilities during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and where more than 40 people died.

The move comes after a lawyer for Herron’s owners called for the hearings into her client’s facility to be delayed on Monday. Nadine Touma argued that prosecutors haven’t decided if they intend to charge the owners of the long-term care home and that the inquest’s hearing should be put on hold.

However, lawyers representing the families of residents who died at Herron and lawyers representing media companies argued the inquest should continue immediately and publicly.

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In her decision on Tuesday, Kamel noted the importance of a public hearing happening as soon as possible — but she decided it’s best to wait until Crown prosecutors decide if Herron management will face criminal charges.

READ MORE: Herron lawyer asks for delay in public coroner’s inquest into seniors’ residence deaths

Kamel says she was faced with a heartbreaking choice and didn’t want her decision to be appealed to Quebec Superior Court, which could have led to lengthy delays in the process. The coroner also apologized, saying she was sincerely sorry to the families for the delay.

Patrick Martin-Ménard, the lawyer for four of those families, said that his clients were “very disappointed” but he said Kamel was facing a difficult decision given the circumstances.

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“The coroner had to make the least bad of two decisions that were possible. I think in the end, she made the decision that would allow a potentially more speedy resumption of the affair, the work of the commission,” he said.

Patrizia Di Biase is a family member who was looking forward to the inquest beginning this week. Her 97-year-old mother lived at the Herron during the first wave but she has dementia and doesn’t remember what she lived through.

“We want to know what happened in there,” she said.

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The CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de l’Île-de-Montréal, the regional health authority in the West Island, told Global News in a statement that it is aware of the decision and will continue to co-operate with the coroner in her probe.

“We are aware that this decision may be difficult for the residents and families concerned to accept, but know that our CIUSSS remains mobilized to offer them all the psychosocial support they need,” the health authority said.

READ MORE:Quebec coroner orders public inquiry into coronavirus deaths at long-term care homes

In the meantime, the coroner’s inquest will move forward with hearings regarding six other long-term care facilities as outlined in Kamel’s mandate. It has been suspended until March 29, when it will pick up in Joliette, Que., with hearings looking at another facility.

Quebec’s long-term care homes largely bore the brunt of the health crisis last spring, prompting several investigations into how the pandemic was handled in those institutions.

It thrust a spotlight on the challenges facing long-term care homes, including critical staffing shortages. In wake of the deaths, the province also launched an intensive training program to recruit thousands of new orderlies in its labour-strapped long-term care centres.

In December, the province’s ombudsman released a report that said the majority of the deaths during the first wave were among CHSLD residents, 3,890 in all. Marie Rinfret described those facilities as the “blind spot” in preparation for the pandemic, saying they were ill-equipped to provide the same level of care as hospitals.

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Click to play video: 'Public inquiry into deaths at Quebec long-term care homes begins'
Public inquiry into deaths at Quebec long-term care homes begins

— with files from Global News’ Mike Armstrong and the Canadian Press

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