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Military report on Quebec seniors homes says conditions difficult but improving


MONTREAL — Many long-term care homes in Quebec are in desperate need of medical personnel and continue to struggle to bring down the number of COVID-19 infections, a military report on its mission inside the province's senior residences says.

The report released Wednesday details three main problems inside Quebec's long-term care homes: improper separation between areas with COVID-19 infections and those without; failure to properly wear personal protective equipment, or PPE; and severe staffing shortages.

"The crying need of long-term care homes is at the level of medically trained personnel," according to the military.

But in most facilities, conditions are improving or have stabilized, the report compiled last week states. And it's the military's success that has Premier Francois Legault worried about what will happen when soldiers leave.

Hundreds of Canadian Forces members were deployed to seniors residences with COVID-19 outbreaks in Quebec beginning last month. These facilities, home to some of the most vulnerable elderly in the province, have recorded 64 per cent of Quebec's 4,228 COVID-19 deaths.

The report notes that some of the province's long-term care homes have become dependent on the soldiers. Canadian Forces, the report states, "are providing a stability in the long-term care homes that allows for the control of outbreaks and the return of civilian personnel to work."

Legault told reporters Wednesday he doesn't want the Canadian Forces to leave before Sept. 15, in order to give his government the time to train thousands of workers who will take their place.

One of the reasons Quebec's long-term care homes were so hard-hit by the novel coronavirus, Legault said, was a shortage of roughly 10,000 orderlies. Legault said his government is launching a recruiting campaign to find 10,000 people willing to work full-time in seniors care homes — and take a three-month paid training course from mid-June to mid-September.

Legault said he asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for an extension of the mission during a recent conversation. "I know, I spoke with Mr. Trudeau about that and it's not easy, they have other missions .... But I would like to keep them until mid-September, until the people that we will train are available to replace them."

Trudeau said earlier on Wednesday that Quebec and Ontario have both asked the federal government to prolong the military's mission inside the long-term care homes. He said he was discussing the issue with the premiers.

"Obviously there are difficult things we need to continue on, but we've seen significant improvement in many of those centres, and there continues to be a need for us to work together," Trudeau said of the Quebec situation.

And while the criticism in the report is strong, is it less severe than the one released Tuesday on the military's mission inside five Ontario long-term care homes, which detailed allegations of insect infestations, aggressive feeding of residents, bleeding infections and residents crying for help for hours.

The report on Quebec's long-term care homes comes as the province recorded 89 additional deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 4,228, and 541 new cases of the disease, for a total of 49,139 cases.

In many of the 25 homes in which they worked, the military reported adequate or improved infection-control practices and stabilizing numbers of cases, although they noted that some of the decline in case numbers was due to residents' deaths. Some institutions, however, appeared to have larger problems.

At Grace Dart, in east-end Montreal, the military observed a "significant rise" in the number of cases, which they described "as the equivalent of a second wave, contaminating residents and employees."

That rise, the report noted, "seems due to poor discipline in the wearing of PPE, compliance with the zones and safety instructions for the wearing of PPE between these zones."

At Vigi Mont-Royal, in central Montreal, the percentage of infected residents rose from 84 per cent to 100 per cent during the period covered in the report. An order of 20 boxes of masks appeared to have gone missing, as did a shipment of narcotics, the report said.

"A lack of medical equipment is often noted during shift changes, and soldiers have had to intervene in several instances to offer solutions to allow care personnel to carry out their work in a safe manner," the report read.

Both facilities have since improved, the report stated, although military observers at Vigi Mont-Royal noted that some civilian staff continued to ignore the protocols in place.

The Canadian Armed Forces have roughly 1,350 members deployed for their Quebec mission, with 1,050 working directly in 25 facilities.

Legault said he wasn't surprised by the content of the military's report — much of it had already been revealed in news reports dating back to early mid-April. He admitted, however, that it is embarrassing for the province to be forced to ask for the military to help feed and clean its most vulnerable.

"I think, it is embarrassing for all of Quebec society," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante and Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press