Unions in Mauricie region demand public inquiry into handling of COVID-19 outbreaks

Unions representing health-care workers in Mauricie and central Quebec are asking the government to launch an independent investigation into how the local public health board handled outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care homes.

The CISSS Mauricie-et-du-Centre-du-Québec announced in April it would launch an internal investigation, following outbreaks in several facilities, including the CHSLD Laflèche, where 44 residents died.

One hundred and seven residents and 83 employees contracted the virus at Laflèche. Five other public care homes also had cases — 96 residents died in total.

General manager Carol Fillion has acknowledged that staff were working at more than one institution because there was a lack of personnel.

Workers who had been in contact with a person infected with the virus were also called back to work before the end of their 14-day isolation period, again because of understaffing.

Pascal Bastarache, president of the CSN-affiliated union representing personal care workers, said while both the CISSS and the unions agree mistakes were made, they don't agree on the remedy.

He said a public, transparent inquiry is needed in order to get to the root of the problem.

"When you look at yourself in the mirror, you're never really neutral," said Bastarache.

While the situation has stabilized in the region, he said some actions took too long to implement on the ground, which led to more cases spreading.

"People are doing everything they can, but the CISSS is a giant ship that is hard to turn around rapidly."

CISSS 'mammoth' on the stand

Paul Lavergne, president of the CSN in Mauricie, said the centralization of decision-making for the province's health boards is a contributing factor to the mistakes that were made at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

"We have to take a look at the entire system," said Lavergne, who is convinced the situation isn't unique to the Mauricie region.

Taking a look at the bigger picture of Quebec's health system is something unions have been requesting for years, he said.

"If the conclusion is that we have to dismantle the mammoths that are the CISSS and CIUSSS, we have to be able to get to that."

Radio-Canada

Nearly 2,600 union members and citizens signed a petition supporting the demand for a public inquiry. The unions are asking Quebec's minister of justice and the MNA for Champlain, Sonia Lebel, to present it to the National Assembly.

On Sunday, a convoy of vehicles drove through the streets of Trois-Rivières, in a show of support for health-care workers, ending up in front of the headquarters of the CISSS Mauricie-et-du-Centre-du-Québec.

To date, there have been 1,879 cases of COVID-19 in the Mauricie and Central Quebec region. Of those infected, 173 have died.