Probe launched after 31 deaths at Canadian nursing home

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said it appeared to be a case of “gross negligence”.

the-canadian-press-2020-04-13 A woman prays in front of the Herron seniors residence. Ryan Remiorz / PA Images Ryan Remiorz / PA Images / PA Images

A NURSING HOME in Montreal has become a symbol of the terrible toll Covid-19 is taking in Canada’s long-term care homes after residents were left soiled and unfed after their caregivers fled the premises following 31 deaths in the space of a few weeks.

The bleak situation discovered at the Residence Herron, in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, has triggered an investigation for gross negligence and a national reckoning among Canadians about the conditions in long-term care homes which account for half the country’s more than 1,250 Covid-19 deaths.

“I was sick to my stomach, I was really sick to my stomach,” said Moira Davis, whose father Stanley Pinnell died at the Herron facility on 8 April.

“All of a sudden these questions started flying through my head, ‘What could we have done differently? Why did nobody tell us?… Why, why, why?’”

Called to the rescue after most of the staff deserted the facility, health authorities found residents dehydrated, unfed for days and lying listless in bed, some covered in excrement. Others had fallen to the floor. Two deaths had gone unnoticed for several days.

At least five of the 31 recent deaths at the home have been officially attributed to the virus, with the others still being investigated by a coroner.

From her home in Creighton, Saskatchewan, Davis said she became concerned about her 96-year-old father, who is believed to have contracted coronavirus a week before his death, as he sounded weaker and weaker on the phone each time they spoke.

She said Residence Herron was not unique. ”There are other homes, I am sure, in every country of the world, where families have experienced a similar situation.

“It scares me, it terrifies me to think that I am 60 years of age, and I may someday end up in one of these homes.”

Announcing the fatalities this week, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said it appeared to be a case of “gross negligence” with just two nurses had been left to care for 130 elderly residents. 

Further fuelling public outrage, Canadian media also revealed that the home’s owner had once been convicted of drug trafficking, fraud and tax evasion.

For families, shock and anger mixed with the frustration of having been powerless to do anything, kept away by a ban on visits to the home to avoid contamination.

Local health authorities have now taken control of the facility, and a multi-million class action has been launched against the owner alleging “inhumane and degrading maltreatment” for failing to ensure continued and adequate care.

“On April 7, my mother was left in her wheelchair with a full, soiled diaper for three hours because no one responded” to the emergency button and her cries for help, Peter Wheeland said, adding that she had diarrhea, one of the symptoms of the new coronavirus. 

“We weren’t able to communicate with anyone: We called the nurses’ station, we left messages, we did everything we could do to reach them and there was no answer,” he said.

Connie Wheeland has since been transferred to a hospital where she was diagnosed with Covid-19.

© – AFP 2020

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