As investigations into deaths begin, families describe history of neglect at Maison Herron
Published Sunday, April 12, 2020 9:22PM EDT Last Updated Monday, April 13, 2020 1:07PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Three separate investigations are underway into the deaths of 31 people in a West Island seniors' residence.
On Sunday, members of Montreal police's Major Crimes Unit were at Dorval's Maison Herron.
“We're seizing various documents, administrative documents for example, work schedules, lists of employees,” said SPVM spokesperson Andre Durocher. “We're also filming the scene inside.”
The Quebec coroner's office has begun their own inquiry as to what happened inside the Herron. At least five deaths have been confirmed to be related to COVID-19. Conditions in the facility degenerated during the month of March, with some describing patients suffering from dehydration, malnutrition and neglected hygiene.
Darrell Whitehead said his father John died of COVID-19 in Maison Herron on Friday.
“I found out he went three or four days without having any water,” said Whitehead. “We contacted a doctor in charge and they placed an IV.”
Whitehead said it cost $5,000 per month for his father to stay in the residence.
“To get that type of lack of respect and mistreatment... People need to know what's going on,” he said. “I'm compelled to be here and tell the story since my dad can't talk.”
Social worker Mandy Novak was at the Herron to volunteer on Sunday.
“There's still a smell,” she said. “The smell I was smelling, I'm told is the smell of the cadavers that's still lingering.”
Novak said the smell lingered despite being told the facility was much cleaner on Sunday than on previous days.
“You can see the conditions in there are not very good,” she said.
A spokesperson for the union representing staff at the Herron said some workers did stop coming to work at the height of the outbreak.
“Working conditions were poor and there was a lack of equipment and personal protection equipment,” said Sylvie Nelson.
Nelson said management refused to do anything to improve conditions.
Formerly orderly Jean Bottari said he hopes the events at Herron will be a catalyst for change.
“This has to bring a change once and for all because this has been going on for years and years and years,” he said. “How many Residence Herron are out there? We don't know.”
A HISTORY OF PROBLEMS
Leane Conti, whose mother Carole Stewart lived in Herron for two years, tested positive for COVID-19 and is now in palliative care. She said the issues at Herron started long before the pandemic, but her mother didn't want to move.
“She would often be in feces or urine for hours,” said Conti. “At one point, I was told she was urinating too often, that they were using too many diapers. They didn't have Pks, which are the cover that goes between the sheet and the bed so they don't soil the bed. I had to supply my mother with her own Pks.”
Quebec's long-term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19, with over 150 experiencing outbreaks. One facility in Laval has seen at least 20 people die during the crisis.
A report issued by Handicap-Vie-Dignite, an organization advocating for better conditions in long-term care homes, said many facilities suffer from issues such as a lack of staff.
Spokesperson Daphnee Nahmiash said if her organization's recommendations had been implemented, lives could have been saved.
“I do think if the government had initially put more services into the home-care program, some people could have stayed home,” she said. “If they would have had additional staff in long-term care homes and residences, I think they would have had much better services.”
The president of the Federation of Health and Social Services said the situation has been deteriorating for years due to budget cuts and the implementation of regional health boards by Quebec's previous government, headed by the Liberal Party.
“Regardless of what the problem was, every month the board of directors had a meeting to look and say 'What do we need to catch up?'” said Jeff Begley. “Now, they're a little cog in the whole wheel of the CISSS and CIUSSS.”
Former health minister Gaetan Barrette, who implemented those reforms, declined requests for an interview.
Earlier in the week, Premier Francois Legault said protecting seniors would be his administration's “top priority.”