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A memorial is seen at the CHSLD Yvon-Brunet long-term care home in Montreal on April 13, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

While still grieving her elderly father’s death in a nursing home, a Montreal woman paid tribute to the staffers who cared for him, during an emotional day of testimony at a coroner’s inquest.

Several of those workers broke into tears Wednesday as Johanne Grenier thanked them for their dedication and efforts despite the chaos from the COVID-19 outbreak.

They worked at Montreal’s Yvon-Brunet nursing home, where 73 residents died in the spring of 2020.

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“The squalor and rundown of the premise, the lack of protective equipment, the inertia of the government … led to the carnage among residents at Yvon-Brunet,” Ms. Grenier told the inquest.

“We have no blame for the personnel at Yvon-Brunet. They did the best they could with the little they had.”

She recalled the sadness of her father, 95-year-old Ephrem Grenier, whose declining health had forced the family to move him to Yvon-Brunet, a facility they found run-down and dirty. “My father deserved better. He worked hard all his life so his last days would end with dignity.”

Coroner Géhane Kamel’s inquest is looking at events that led to thousands of deaths in Quebec’s elder care homes during the first wave of the pandemic.

The names of the four employees who testified Wednesday cannot be disclosed because of a publication ban

They described how they worked in an aging building, trying to comfort dying residents, despite their own fears and the lack of masks and disinfectant. All four fell sick during the first wave.

A male auxiliary nurse testified that there was no lack of procedural masks in the past when they had outbreaks of influenza. However, in March, 2020, masks were kept under lock and key out of fear that the home would run out. The masks were only issued when they dealt with a quarantined resident.

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There was great apprehension among staff, a female orderly said. “We talked among ourselves. We felt something was going to happen,” she testified.

Some purchased their own protective gear, but they weren’t allowed to use them. They were told it would worry and confuse the residents, many of whom had cognitive problems.

“That wasn’t good. If I buy a mask, respect my point of view. My residents know me. I can explain it to my residents. Don’t tell me to remove the masks because it will scare them. It didn’t feel right,” a male orderly said.

The female orderly said she brought a respirator, a facial protection used by construction workers. “I was told it wasn’t nice for the residents. It would scare them. But we were scared, too. We were afraid we would infect everyone. And that’s what happened.”

She said they had to care for ailing residents who were starting to cough into the staffers’ faces. The first COVID-19 infection among residents was confirmed on April 3, and the mask restrictions changed.

Even then, each orderly received just two masks a shift. “That wasn’t enough,” the male orderly testified. “I go into a room to care for a resident. After, I wash my hands, then I have to put on that same mask to go into another room. That’s not right.”

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The staffers testified that they tried to comfort Mr. Grenier, who became anxious when the pandemic forced a lockdown at Yvon-Brunet, preventing his family from visiting.

The female orderly used her own cellphone to help Mr. Grenier call his children. “We told him, ‘Mr. Grenier we are here with you. You are not going to die. Your children are going to come see you.’”

Ms. Grenier said that the male orderly called her afterward to offer his condolences, but he was so distraught she ended up consoling him. “Thank you … it was a pleasure knowing you,” she told him.

As she spoke, the orderly reached out to a box of tissues on the witness stand to wipe his tears.

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