MONTREAL -- Today was the last day that Quebec’s speedily recruited new orderlies got to practice their skills on mannequins.

From now on they’ll be in the field, learning to take care of real people. 

It’s not a moment too soon, as the military withdrawal from Quebec’s care homes is complete. The Red Cross workers sent in by the federal government to help replace them, 900 in total, will trickle into place over the course of July.

But the new orderlies are prepared, said one clinical instructor, despite their quick training.

“We're trying to give them as much of a realistic approach to the program [as possible] so they're not caught off guard in any way,” said instructor John Millar.

“We’ve focused a lot on PPE, we've focused a lot on isolation protocols, so we're very firm on that.”

They’ve learned other skills, too, such as how to bathe residents or transfer them from a bed to a wheelchair. And the trainers have tried to prepare them emotionally for what can be a very tough job.

“The most challenging for me is going to be end-of-life care,” said Dev Rishi, who used to be a truck driver but applied for Quebec’s expedited orderly training.

“We're going to spend time with our residents for five years, ten years, and when they're going to leave, it's going to be really challenging for me,” he said.

Another of the trainees, Maria Dhe Paganon, said she quit her job waiting tables for a chance at a steady job in health care. 

“If I can put that much effort and hard work into people rather than food, I can make a difference,” she told CTV News.


There’s also been some confusion around the program.

The province’s plan is to have 10,000 new orderlies in place by September, and when authorities sent the job callout they offered a competitive wage, including paid training. 

But some students said they haven’t been paid yet, after about three weeks of training. They thought they’d be getting $26 an hour, paid biweekly.

A document obtained by CTV, sent to students training within the Central-West health district, explains that the students will be paid in three monthly installments for training. It also says the hourly rate is $20.55.

The health authority confirmed to CTV that trainees will receive their pay in three installments. Once the training is completed, they'll be paid the going pay on the "established salary scale" for orderlies, "as well as all applicable premiums," said spokesman Barry Morgan.

The union representing existing orderlies says that with COVID bonus premiums, the trainees will indeed by getting $26 an hour once training is over. 

The trainees have had mixed reactions to this news. Some have been angry or even quit.

“I feel like it depends upon the situation of every person,” said Rishi on Tuesday, “because me, I have savings, I can manage, but some people here, they're living paycheque to paycheque. For them it's really hard.”

They’ll continue training in the field over the summer before officially starting their jobs in September.


Meanwhile, the new Red Cross workers are slowly arriving to be a summer stopgap.

Quebec Premier François Legault expressed frustration Tuesday that more than 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces soldiers have ended their mission inside Quebec's long-term care homes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in late June the Canadian Red Cross will send 900 people to replace them. Trudeau said 150 Red Cross workers would arrive before July 6, with the balance in place by July 29.

Legault told reporters he hoped the Red Cross would be deployed more quickly. The premier lamented that only about 100 Red Cross members had begun working in Quebec's long-term care homes, where the majority of the province's deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred.

A Department of National Defence spokesperson said in an email Tuesday that soldiers transitioned out of Quebec long-term care homes on June 29, with small teams on standby to respond to any COVID-19 outbreaks that staff can't control on their own.

Legault said many hospital staff are still working in seniors' residences, creating residual problems in getting hospital operations going.

--The Canadian Press contributed to this report.