Families sharply rebuke private Montreal care home where 47 died in COVID-19 1st wave

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MONTREAL — Family members who lost loved ones at a Montreal long-term care home where 47 people died during the pandemic's first wave told a coroner's inquest Thursday that caring for society's most vulnerable should not be a for-profit exercise.

Thursday was supposed to be the final day of hearings for private care home Résidence Herron, but coroner Géhane Kamel decided to hear more witnesses at the end of October because she said testimony had been contradictory and left her with too many unanswered questions.

She added that she would also like to view video surveillance footage to determine whether employees at the facility abandoned their posts on March 29, 2020, leaving residents alone. The inquiry has heard that regional health authorities arrived at the severely understaffed facility on that day to find residents dehydrated, unfed and soiled.

“At least then it will feel like I have closed the loop with Herron," Kamel said Thursday about her decision to extend the hearings. "Maybe I won't have all of my answers, but at least I can sleep soundly."

Peter Barrette's father, Léon, died at the care home after he had been admitted on March 27, 2020, the day the first COVID-19 case had been identified at the facility. He said despite three weeks of testimony, he would probably never know what happened to his dad.

He told the inquiry the province should nationalize private long-term care homes in order to ensure the primary goal of the facilities is to "provide humane care" and not to "make profits for the owners."

"If people want to run a business for profit, they can run and own a (seniors home) or a hotel or a fast-food franchise," Barrette said Thursday, "but not provide services to the most vulnerable and weakest members of our society."

In her letter to the inquiry, Christiane Boucher, whose father, Denis Sr., died, echoed the need for a universal, non-profit care home system.

"If we can do this for daycare for little humans, why can't we do this for our vulnerable elders?," she asked.

On Wednesday, Moira Davis, whose father Stanley E. Pinnell died at Herron, delivered a blistering takedown of her father's care, calling for an end to private care homes and a two-tier system of elder care.

“I maintain that a national inquiry into senior-care homes in Canada still needs to occur," she said. "What happened at Herron wasn’t an isolated incident — it’s happened throughout Quebec and in every province in Canada."

“What I can say is the system for senior care is broken — not just the CHSLDs [long-term care homes], not just in private for-profit homes — there is a systematic breakdown in just about every senior care home in our country."

For Tina Gurekas, who lost her mother Olga Maculedicius, she wrote in a submission Thursday that her mother was one of many who had died in for-profit homes in Quebec and Canada.

She described institutions that buckled under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic: understaffed and ill-equipped to meet the demand. When family members who had bridged the gap in care were denied access, she said, it created another layer of cruelty for residents.

Gurekas called for better transparency and oversight over for-profit care facilities. She said more registered nurses should be hired, orderlies should have better working conditions and the government should implement provincewide standards that apply to public and private long-term care homes.

"What shall we all take away from these proceedings if not a preview to our own futures," Gurekas wrote. "Unless changes are made in good faith with political will and public support, we may all be vulnerable to a similar end."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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