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Beleaguered staff at Longueuil CHSLD 'did the best they could', inquest told

Confusion reigned at the long-term care centre early in the pandemic, a coroner's inquest hears. “We were in a war zone at that moment.”

Quebec's public coroner is holding an inquest into last spring’s deaths at the province's long-term care centres and seniors’ residences.

In an ideal world, when the pandemic struck last spring, Quebec’s long-term care centres would have been equipped with enough staff and had access to more COVID-19 testing to identify cases before the spread took hold.

But that wasn’t the case, a regional public health director said on Monday, and in the absence of the necessary resources, staff scrambled to do the best they could as the situation deteriorated around them.

“We were in a war zone,” said Dr. Julie Loslier, director of public health for the Montérégie-East region.

“So, yes, there are things that could have been done differently. But I think what people tried to do was be as careful as possible, and react as quickly as possible when new directives arrived during what was a catastrophic situation.”

Loslier testified Monday at the public coroner’s inquest into last spring’s deaths at Quebec’s long-term care centres and seniors’ residences.

The inquiry is focusing this week on Longueuil’s CHSLD René-Lévesque. During the first wave alone, 54 of the centre’s residents died and a total of 118 became infected.

The inquest heard Monday the centre faced many of the same issues as other residences across the province, including being understaffed while employees tried to fend off a virus they knew little about.

A Longueuil police officer asked to investigate what happened at the centre, Det.-Sgt. Richard Parenteau, said there were no criminal elements suspected in the case. But he testified about the different missteps he identified through more than a dozen interviews with staff, management and families.

When the centre detected its first case in early April, it created a COVID-19 hot zone, as was recommended at the time. It moved residents around in order to do so, asking some to room together. Several of those residents had already been infected and unknowingly spread the virus to their new roommates.

Parenteau said personnel and residents continued to move among floors and sections in the centre after the outbreak started, potentially spreading the virus, and noted there was a lack of personal protective equipment early on.

The inquest heard nurses and patient attendants at the centre would go without masks or gloves in certain situations since they knew how few were available. On at least one occasion, the local health authority had been warned some employees were also asked to come into work despite feeling ill.

Parenteau said families he spoke with remain convinced the government’s decision to bar caregivers from entering the homes also made the situation worse, and directives repeatedly changing also led to confusion about what was supposed to be done.

But he doesn’t think those responsible for the centre are to blame for what happened, instead attributing it to how little was known at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I’m of the opinion employees and management did the best they could considering they faced a very difficult situation and had to manage the unknown,” Parenteau said.

To shed light on what happened at the centre, the inquest will focus on the death of resident Yvan Luc Brodeur.

Brodeur, 80, was declared positive for COVID-19 in late April and died six days later. His family had insisted he be transferred to a hospital in his last days, having lost trust in the centre.

His wife and daughter are expected to testify Tuesday.

jfeith@postmedia.com

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