MONTREAL -- Calling it inconsistent, unreliable or unprofessional, many who rely on home health care for their elderly loved ones say the COVID-19 pandemic has created a frustrating struggle.

"It's a nightmare dealing with them," said Monica Bialski, whose 94-year-old mother receives modest services from the CLSC Lac-Saint-Louis in Pointe-Claire. "My mom gets a different person every couple days, or they don't show up at all."

Bialski wrote a letter to the CLSC recently explaining that her mother had great service with a prior worker, but when that worker was switched, service suffered.

"My mom’s mind is 100 per cent sharp," she wrote in the letter. "So she is able to tell me what happens every day. My mom’s routine is very important to her, as it is important to everyone. My mom is also a very good person in that she does not unnecessarily complain. So when she tells me something, it is because things are getting out of hand." 

Others have similar stories.

Some say they while they are happy that their parents can remain at home and out of long-term care facilities, particularly during the pandemic, services are lacking.

"From my 12-week experience, it has been very frustrating dealing with the CLSC Lac-Saint-Louis," said Cynthia Waithe, whose mother had a stroke in March and required home care. "Dealing with the CLSC has not been positive at all."

Waithe said she filed a complaint against the CLSC. She added that she feels her current home-care worker is trying her best in difficult circumstances, but that she had poor service previously.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an added layer of strain for family members, who are often trying to respect physical distancing guidelines and stay away from their elder and more vulnerable relatives. 

Sanaz Salehi, whose 66-year-old mother had a stroke, said a home-care worker arrived on her mother's doorstep without warning after months of waiting for the CLSC to confirm someone would be stopping by to check on her.

"One morning my mom calls to tell me that there's somebody at her door. I'm like, 'Okay? Who is this person,'" she said.

Salehi spoke on the phone with the worker who said the CLSC sent her, and that there would be two different workers visiting her mother for half an hour every day. 

Having different people stop by is stressful, particularly when patients are conscious of having contact with as few people as possible during the health crisis.

"It's been very frustrating because she's been getting help from different agencies," said Salehi. "That has become a source of stress... We are still dealing with COVID, and different people are showing up at an elderly (person)'s house."

"It is so hard on a person who lives alone to be facing such change and have another stranger come without any notice," said Bialski. "My mom is undressing in front of the stranger. My mom was devastated and stressed."

The West Island health and social services media relations department said in an email that during the pandemic, "certain services were temporarily unloaded" with the approval of users, and that home support follow-ups occurred on a regular basis with users whose services were altered.

The CIUSSS West Island said some home support services employees tested positive for COVID-19, which "led to a reorganization of the allocation of interveners for certain users."

They would not comment on inconsistencies in services, but invited those with issues to contact their CLSC support worker. 

Bialski said she has called the complaint line a number of times and found the process lacking.

She said the agent she spoke to didn't listen to her concerns and had "zero compassion."

"The last time, when I called wanting solution to the aides changing, the person told me if I continue complaining, she will hang up on me," she said. "She evidently has lots of power and does what she wants."

Holly Strohl began the "West Island Support and Resources for Caregivers of the Elderly" group on Facebook when her mother-in-law was referred for home care. 

It is a place where people can connect and share advice and resources about what services are available and how to deal with bureaucratic issues. 

Strohl quickly found that people were willing to share their experiences, what is helpful, what is not and how to deal with certain issues. 

"It becomes a really big family," said Strohl. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has seen a rise in stress related to services and home care in general.

"It all depends on the CLSC," she said. "If you don't have the money, if you're relying on the government for this, it all depends on the CLSC, and unfortunately, you can't pick and choose."

Strohl has had an overwhelmingly positive experience with her parents' CLSC in Cote-des-Neiges, but others are not so lucky. 

"They just keep claiming that the budget's not there, the resources aren't there," she said. "There are more that are suffering than are doing well."

"No person should be put through this nightmare," said Waithe. "It is already a traumatic experience, and they don't make it any easier. It's a constant battle."