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Quebec’s ombudswoman Marie Rinfret speaks during a news conference at the legislature, in Quebec City, on June 13, 2019.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s ombudswoman has launched an investigation into the failings of the province’s health care network in responding to the many COVID-19 outbreaks in public and private senior residences.

Marie Rinfret announced Tuesday her office will probe why more than 81 per cent of Quebec’s deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred either at long-term care homes or at private seniors residences. Quebec recorded another 70 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 4,139 – the most in Canada by far.

“The current crisis is happening in living environments that were vulnerable to begin with and where there were known problems that were often criticized by the Quebec Ombudsman,” Rinfret said in a news release.

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“These include a glaring shortage of staff, difficult work conditions because of this shortage, a high turnover rate for care attendants, and insufficient oversight of private residences by the public network.”

Rinfret’s investigation is one of many that have been announced into the province’s long-term care homes since the start of the pandemic. Three professional orders – representing doctors, nurses and licensed practical nurses – have announced separate probes.

Other investigations are being conducted by the coroner’s office and the Montreal police. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also stated he would be open to launching a public inquiry when the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Bill Blair, minister of public safety, said the Canadian Armed Forces are preparing a report about their mission inside Quebec’s long-term care homes. Hundreds of military personnel have been deployed to about 20 facilities to help clean, feed and care for the elderly in the province.

Military members have also been working in Ontario’s long-term care homes, and their report on the situation there, released Tuesday, details allegations of insect infestations, aggressive resident feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections and residents crying for help for hours.

Blair’s spokeswoman, Mary-Liz Power, said she didn’t know when the military’s report on Quebec’s senior facilities would be made public, or what will be in it. She said it’s standard practice for them to write reports on their missions.

“It’ll be a report on what they saw,” Power said in an interview. Ewan Sauves, spokesman for Quebec Premier Francois Legault, said the premier’s office did not have in its possession a report by the military, and the Canadian Armed Forces did not return a request for comment.

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Rinfret’s investigation will look into how residences for the elderly can be improved to better handle future pandemics or similar health crises, with a progress report expected by the fall.

Her office will probe public and private long-term care homes, where more than 60 per cent of the province’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred. The ombudswoman will also review practices at other public residences such as so-called intermediate resources, which are centres adapted for people with limited mobility.

The investigation will also analyze the private network of senior residences that are certified by the Health Department or have agreements with regional health networks. About 18 per cent of the province’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred at private seniors residences.

The province added 614 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, for a total of 48,598, with 14,999 patients recovered.

Management of the province’s long-term care homes during the pandemic came under increased scrutiny in early April after an investigation by the Montreal Gazette revealed 27 patients had died in a single facility over a two-week period. News reports since then have revealed that at least 51 patients in the CHSLD Herron have died.

The coroner announced April 12 it would investigate the deaths at the centre, which has been placed under trusteeship by the provincial government. Montreal police are also investigating.

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Since the Herron scandal broke, there have been more revelations of difficult conditions at many of the province’s long-term care homes, which continue to suffer from a shortage of experienced full-time staff.

Treasury Secretary Christian Dube said Tuesday the province is offering orderlies who work in long-term care homes an 18 per cent salary increase. Full-time workers would see their salaries increase to $51,000 a year from $42,000 a year, he announced on Twitter.

Scott Gottlieb says we will be better prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, but a spike in new cases may also arrive at a time when other seasonal illness circulate. The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2017 and 2019 adds that Sweden leads Europe in coronavirus deaths despite attempts at herd immunity. The Globe and Mail

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