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Police investigation underway after 31 seniors die at residence in Montreal's West Island
MONTREAL -- The deaths of 31 elderly residents at a long-term care home in Montreal’s West Island amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led to police and public health investigations as families scramble to speak to their loved ones.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who chaired the daily COVID-19 news briefing on his day off Saturday, delivered the shocking news, saying he felt there was "negligence" at the Maison Herron long-term care facility in Dorval.
Legault said that the government learned Friday at 8 p.m. that there were 31 deaths at Herron, and at least five were COVID-19 cases.
He explained that a patient was sent from the residence - owned by Katasa Groupe Developers - to the Jewish General Hospital March 26 with the COVID-19 virus where he later died. On March 29, health authorities went to visit the home and staff had abandoned it.
"I think there's a lot of negligence that took place at the residence," said the premier.
Public health and police investigations are now opened.
Legault was visibly shaken delivering the news and added that 40 private long-term care facilities will be investigated immediately.
"It is not acceptable how our elderly are treated in this province," said Legault, who added that the Herron's owner kept information from the government that had "serious problems" in its care and conditions.
In an afternoon news briefing, the CEO of the West Island regional health board (CIUSSS) Lynne McVey said they did not receive cooperation from the private residence when they offered assistance.
“We reached out to Maison Herron, we knew they were having difficulty staffing,” she said. “We had little collaboration with the owners, unfortunately. These are extraordinary circumstances.”
McVey said that it was only on March 28, when a team from the health board was able to enter the private facility. McVey said health workers wearing protective gear ensured residents were fed, changed and able to go to sleep.
It was only after a public health order was obtained on April 8 that the regional health board was able to access the residents’ files and contact information for their family members. It was then that they learned of the 31 deaths.
“So, we are investigating the circumstances around these deaths,” said McVey.
McVey said family members who have had difficulty getting information about residents can call 514-630-2123 seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to speak to administration.
DAUGHTER ALLEGES HISTORY OF NEGLIGENCE
Leane Conti, whose mother is a resident at Herron, said mistreatment of patients predates the COVID-19 crisis.
"My mother is supposed to have 24-hour care. They tried to bathe her two years ago when she first moved in and she was 'difficult.' They haven't bathed her since," she said. "There were weekends way before COVID when [CHSLD Herron] didn't have enough people working. If someone calls in sick, you need to find someone to replace them."
She added that doctor visits came only once per week and were conducted by a physician she described as negligent.
Conti said she received a call on March 20 telling her that her mother, who is bedridden and mostly paralyzed, had fallen and was running a fever. Her mother was taken to Lakeshore Hospital for a COVID-19 test, which came back positive. Still, she was sent back to Herron on March 22. She texted Conti, saying she was extremely ill and coughing up blood, at which point Conti called an ambulance. She said her mother is now in palliative care at Santa Cabrini Hospital.
Conti said she had tried to unsuccessfully convince her mother to move for years.
"For two years, I tried to get my mom out, but it's very hard--mentally and physically--for my mother to move," she said. "I don't have power of attorney, so I couldn't get her out myself."
Marilyn Jarka’s 91-year-old mother Gladys has Alzheimer’s and lives at Herron. She had not heard news from her mother’s caregivers for about 10 days when she got a call telling her that her mother had a fever and a hoarse throat Friday.
She said the family has received conflicting numbers about how many people were infected over the past week and is frustrated at not being able to get information.
“I don’t trust anything they tell me anymore,” said Jarka. “My sisters and I were saying maybe they are getting us ready to tell us the fact that she died by telling us she had a sore throat yesterday… Thirty-one people die and nobody knows?”
COMPANY OWNS SEVERAL RESIDENCES
Katasa acquired Maison Herron in 2015 and owns several other seniors' homes in the province.
CTV News tried to contact the company that owns the residence, but has not been successful.
Paul Brunet is chairman of the board at the Conseil pour la protection des malades, and was disturbed by the news, but added that two reports were made about conditions at Herron.
“It’s unthinkable that these type of stories still happen,” he said adding that a 2017 report and an evaluation report in 2019 with recommendations both should have been given more attention by the government.
“Such reports are in the hands of the health minister (Danielle McCann),” said Brunet. “She was in place when that report came out and there are still other elements that she should have been aware of.”
Brunet said she should have had the recommendations and should have taken the situation more seriously.
ALMOST 50 NEW DEATHS
There are now 289 Quebecers who have died from COVID-19, and the number of confirmed cases in Quebec has reached 12,292, the province’s public health officials announced Saturday.
That's an increase of 48 from the 241 deaths reported Friday and up 615 from the 11,677 cases reported across the province 24 hours earlier.
There are 778 Quebecers being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals as of Wednesday afternoon, health authorities reported, up 45 from the 733 reported Friday; 211 of them are in intensive care, up 25 from the 186 reported the day before.
Legault said there is a shortage of some medication, and that the government has about a week's worth while it continues to search for more.
"We're having problems procuring these," he said.
The provincial government is in communication with other provinces and the federal government to find solutions.
Legault added that there are no definite plans to open schools before May 4, but that they are looking at different scenarios for when to open.
"The facts are that we have some scenarios before May the 4th," said Legault.
"I want to tell the parents that we will not rush the return of kids to school," said Legault, "Right now, we don't know what will be the situation in a week from now, in two weeks from now."