A large long-term care facility in Quebec where staff had complained about the lack of protective medical equipment is now the seat of an outbreak of at least 105 cases of infection to the novel coronavirus, with eight deaths among the elderly residents.
Located in Laval, a suburb north of Montreal, the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care centre has a capacity of 285 residents.
The regional health authority in Laval made public Monday that there were 105 confirmed cases, but only listed one death at the Sainte-Dorothée centre.
However, Judith Goudreau, a spokesman for the regional authority, confirmed to The Globe and Mail that a total of eight residents had died since the outbreak began.
Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sainte-Dorothée centre had been the subject of media reports about the lack of personnel, resulting in poor conditions for its elderly residents.
Because of the chronic staff shortage in the province’s facilities for seniors, Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann confirmed last week that, in some cases, employees who had been exposed to the coronavirus didn’t complete a 14-day quarantine. Instead, they were brought back to work after only a week in isolation if they didn’t show any symptoms.
“We do it in exceptional circumstances where otherwise there would be a lack of protection,” Ms. McCann told reporters, saying that those situations were mitigated by strict hygiene measures.
(The coronavirus can spread about one to three days before symptoms start, the World Health Organization officials said at a news conference Monday, though concerns about asymptomatic transmission had emerged well before.)
According to a local newspaper, Le Courrier Laval, Sainte-Dorothée employees were not issued masks until March 30, when 11 people had already been infected. The paper said some staffers tried to protect themselves with diving goggles or paid for face shields out of their own pockets.
While personal support workers in private Quebec homes earn about $15 an hour, wages in public-sector facilities can top $22 an hour after five years.
However, according to Jeff Begley, president of the FSSS – CSN, a trade union representing health workers, even with better pay, personnel in Quebec public-run long-term care centres are chronically hobbled by heavy workload, mandatory overtime and a high rate of sick leaves.
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