MONTREAL -- The COVID-19 pandemic has put such a strain on Quebec's social services that a Montreal man living with a disability says he is struggling to get the help he needs to complete basic daily tasks.

Jacques Comeau, who has been living as a tetraplegic for 45 years, receives home-care from a CLSC twice a day. The caregivers help him get in and out of bed and aid him in bathing. But Comeau says the CLSC is so short-staffed that it frequently outsources the work to an agency, who may come hours early to put him to bed and, sometimes, not at all.

“(I'm) constantly worried about whether I'm going to be put to bed tonight or not, whether someone is going to show up tomorrow morning to take care of me properly,” he said. “It's very de-humanizing.”

Comeau, who works as an integration counsellor for disability support organization MEMO-Quebec, said he now has to fight to have help taking a weekly shower.

“When I first brought it up to the person at the CLSC, she said 'Well, you know that a bed bath is exactly the same as a shower, except for the sensation,'” he said. “You might be able to tell your child that an apple is as good as a popsicle, but it's not.”

Patients' rights advocate Paul Brunet said Comeau's case is not unique, as the pandemic has exacerbated existing staff shortages in CLSCs.

“Especially during the first wave, because a lot of workers deserted the service,” he said.

That problem was made even worse after the provincial government launched a recruitment campaign for orderlies to work in the seniors' homes.

Last year, the government pledged $100 million to boost home-care but Brunet said he hasn't seen a difference.

“We are still looking for where the money went,” he said.

Jeff Begley, president of the FSSS-CSN union, which represents most CLSC home-care workers, said there is growing frustration among them.

“When they know they don't have the time to give the services they want to give, they feel it almost as much as the person they're supposed to give the services to,” he said.

Begley added that the quality of care also suffers when the CLSC calls in replacements from agencies. 

"The problem is, people that work for the agencies aren't part of the team which works with the person, so when they go,  they don't have the benefit of what the team has prescribed for the person. They don't have the benefit of knowing in detail the situation and, generally speaking, they also don't benefit from the same salary level. Even though public sector home-care workers are poorly paid, in the agencies it's often times barely above minimum wage."

In a statement, the West Island regional health authority said “auxiliary workers must present themselves at the time indicated on the schedule and schedule changes must be made in collaboration with the client,” but Comeau said that rarely happens and speaking with his caseworker hasn't helped.

“In the past, it would help to convince them that things needed to change. Now, nothing you explain seems to make a difference,” he said. “It's just 'This is what we're doing now.'”

- With reporting from CTV Montreal's Angela Mackenzie