The head of the Montreal health authority that responded to the pandemic disaster at the Herron nursing home will leave her job in July, in the wake of a coroner’s report that criticized her handling of the crisis.
The local health authority said in a statement Tuesday that chief executive officer Lynne McVey will not seek another mandate. Her current one ends July 8.
The communiqué didn’t specify the reasons for Ms. McVey’s departure but the announcement was made a day after coroner Géhane Kamel released the report of her inquest into the high death toll in Quebec nursing homes during the first wave of the pandemic, including 47 deaths at Herron.
Ms. McVey’s organization, known by the initials CIUSSS ODM, is the health authority for the western part of the island of Montreal, a territory that includes the privately owned Herron care home.
The CIUSSS intervened at Herron on March 29 after the facility’s staff had walked away from their jobs when an outbreak of COVID-19 began, leaving weakened residents without care.
For nearly two weeks afterward, the situation remained chaotic as the CIUSSS and Herron’s owners quarreled over who was in charge. “Several deaths could possibly have been avoided in the first days of April if things had unfolded differently,” the coroner wrote in her report.
Ms. Kamel was scathing about a March 30 letter that Ms. McVey sent to Herron’s owners, justifying the CIUSSS takeover. The letter not only criticized the Herron operators for failing to provide proper care but also admonished them for transferring several residents to hospital, “going against Quebec’s ministerial directives and pandemic plan.”
The coroner said it was “disgraceful” of Ms. McVey to chastise Herron for trying to get sick residents to receive proper medical care. “When a facility is overwhelmed to the point that the survival of its residents is at stake, you can question the management that led to that point, but not the cry for help,” Ms. Kamel wrote.
Her report also cast doubts about Ms. McVey’s decision to call the police to investigate Herron on April 11, around 1:35 a.m. The stated reason was that the CIUSSS suspected potential negligence, having just discovered that 31 Herron residents had died during the pandemic, a bigger number than officials realized.
Ms. Kamel was skeptical, however, noting that the CIUSSS was being advised by a public-relations agency, TACT, and that Ms. McVey’s 911 call came after the publication on the afternoon of April 10 of an article by the Montreal Gazette newspaper revealing the dire conditions at Herron. “The message seemed to have been shaped in a way to avoid revealing the role of the CIUSSS,” the report said.
It was a narrative that Premier François Legault followed in a press conference later that day, telling reporters that the CIUSSS hadn’t been aware of the death toll until the previous evening because Herron’s ownership didn’t co-operate and wouldn’t release medical records.
In fact, Ms. Kamel said, the files were accessible and the tally of dead residents wasn’t up to date because of “the inherent chaos in those circumstances and the disorganization of the CIUSSS management team.”
Ms. Kamel’s recommendations are not binding. One of the recommendations is that CIUSSS administrators should be held accountable for the care dispensed to seniors.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.