COVID-19 in Quebec: ‘We need you,’ says Legault of 9,500 workers absent from health-care network

The latest:

  • Quebec has 21,838 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 1,243 people have died. The majority were residents of long-term care institutions and other seniors’ homes.
  • There are 1,411 people in hospital, including 207 in intensive care. Here’s a guide to the numbers.
  • Quebec will release details on how it will ease restrictions next week. The process is expected to start May 4.
  • The Jewish General Hospital has lifted its ban on allowing partners in the maternity ward delivery room.
  • A patients’ rights group is filing a human rights complaint for how long-term care homes have handled the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Director of public health Dr. Horacio Arruda says guidelines on wearing masks are coming later this week. 

Quebec Premier François Legault says there are 9,500 workers absent from Quebec’s health-care network, as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

In the last 24 hours alone, 800 more people have not shown up to work, bringing the total number of absences to 9,500, he said. This labour shortage is especially felt in the province’s long-term care homes.

Among those absent, 4,000 workers are infected with COVID-19. In his daily update on the situation in Quebec on Thursday, Legault issued a plea to healthy workers who have finished their 14-day quarantine period, but are still at home.

“We need you,” he said. “We are not taking any risks with your safety.”

He said the province has the necessary protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. The supply of gowns was running low, but Quebec companies are now stepping up to make more.

On Thursday, the premier announced 109 more deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,243. There are 873 more cases in the province, for a total of  21,838. 

Eight more people are in intensive care, bringing the total to 207, and 1,411 people are currently hospitalized.


A health-care worker wears protective equipment at the Pierre Boucher Hospital in Longueuil, Que., on Wednesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Legault has described the pandemic in Quebec as existing in two worlds: the beleaguered long-term care homes, known in French as centres d’hébergement de soins de longue durée (CHSLDs), and seniors’ homes, and the rest of the population where community transmission is decreasing. 

The rising death toll among seniors in care puts the province on pace to surpass the most optimistic scenario presented by public health experts earlier this month: 1,263 deaths by April 30.

About 80 per cent of those who have died were in long-term care homes or seniors’ homes, and 97 per cent were over the age of 70.

To help control the spread of the virus, public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda is asking Quebecers to wear masks when it is not possible to leave one to two metres of space between people.

He said it is a “strong recommendation” but not obligatory, and that the government will be posting videos explaining how to make a mask at home and how to safely wear it.

Seniors arriving at hospital underfed, dehydrated: doctor

A doctor at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital says patients from long-term care homes are arriving in need of urgent care, not necessarily because of COVID-19, but because they are underfed and dehydrated.

WATCH | Health impact of Quebec’s long-term care crisis goes beyond coronavirus:

The long-term care crisis in Quebec is having an impact on seniors’ health even if they don’t have COVID-19. Doctors are seeing elderly patients coming to hospital with signs some basic needs aren’t being met. 2:04

“These are patients who are required to be fed by someone else. They need to be given water by someone else,” Vinh-Kim Nguyen, an emergency physician, told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak. “They’re not, and so they’re coming with quite serious health consequences as a result.”

Nguyen, who is also vice-president of Doctors Without Borders Switzerland, where he lives part of the time, said what is happening in long-term care homes is a “humanitarian crisis.” 

Nguyen said Jewish General Hospital is increasingly getting patients from CHSLDs that have not been provided the most basic level of care.

“What we are seeing is that some of these facilities are so overwhelmed that they are sending us patients for basic nursing care that they are no longer able to offer,” he said. 

In many cases, Nguyen said staff immediately set up an IV (intravenous) line to give them fluids and restore their electrolyte balance. He said the hospital has newly purchased iPads, which allow patients to speak with their family and lift their spirits.

“If a patient isn’t motivated, there’s not much we can do,” he said.

On Wednesday, Legault requested another 1,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces to assist with the crisis. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that 350 members are currently in the province and that more military support is coming.

Lack of care a human rights issue, advocacy group says

A patients’ rights group has filed a complaint against the province’s long-term care homes for their treatment of residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Paul Brunet, president of the Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients, says residents have faced discrimination and exploitation in the lack of care provided by the homes. 

“Some seniors are not getting minimum health-care services, which is required by virtue of our Constitution and Charter of Rights,” Brunet said.

“They are not treated humanely. They’re not respected. They are infringed in their right to integrity, security and dignity.”

Watch | How does COVID-19 spread?

You play a role in how effectively the virus moves from person to person, says family physician Dr. Peter Lin. 0:48

In 2018, the same group launched a class-action lawsuit targeting all the government-run CHSLD care facilities in the province, which house around 37,000 people.

The lawsuit was approved in 2019, but still hasn’t been heard in Quebec Superior Court.

In light of the unfolding situation at the homes with the pandemic, Brunet says the group decided to make a complaint to Quebec’s Human Rights Commission. 

“We thought a complaint … would be the best, the fastest and certainly the most relevant way of telling and asking the commissioner for a statement and eventually for monetary compensation for patients,” Brunet said. 

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