MONTREAL -- A first group of 40 volunteers underwent training with the Red Cross and health officials in Montreal's West Island Saturday, as they work to beef up assistance in long-term care homes for seniors hit hard by COVID-19.

The Montreal West Island Integrated University Health and Social Services Center (IUHSSC) and the Red Cross partnered up to train the volunteers, hoping to provide additional support to long-term care facilities (CHSLD) and senior residences in the area.

"The CIUSSS contacted the Red Cross saying, 'Right now our nurses are training the people who are taking over for the staff. Could your trainers take over that training?'" said Michelle Mercier of the Canadian Red Cross of Quebec. 

The training will continue for an indeterminate period based on identified needs.

Volunteers are taking adapted and accelerated training, depending on their profiles and the type of work they will take up, such as administrative support or caregiving.

Infection prevention is top of mind, said Genevieve Dumont of the West Island Regional Health Authority.

"Personal protective equipment, when to wear it, how to put it on, take it off, basic infection prevention control," she said.

Training sessions are being held in three separate rooms of an undisclosed hotel with groups of eight people at a time while following ministerial physical distancing instructions.

Authorities hope that keeping the location of the hotel a secret will encourage volunteers to sign up on the website.

“We want to make sure there are no crowds here,” said Dumont. “That’s why we planned for smaller groups more.” 

At the end of the training, volunteers will receive instructions for their reception at the CHSLD or private seniors' residence to which they are assigned as well as their work schedule.

The joint project follows the West Island IUHSSC’s call for support through La force du NOUS!/The Power of US!, an internal initiative among staff and managers.

The Legault government has put out an urgent call for help in the health care sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically in long-term care facilities, which have been rocked by the virus. About half of the deaths from COVID-19 in the province stem from long-term care homes.  

With reporting from CTV Montreal's Billy Shields.