Seniors’ residence like ‘concentration camp’
MONTREAL • A privately run seniors’ residence in the Montreal suburb of Dorval that is grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak has been described as a “concentration camp” — with unfed and soiled elderly residents inside — by health professionals who came to their rescue, a Montreal Gazette investigation has found.
The West Island health authority placed the Résidence Herron under trusteeship on March 29. At the Herron, two people have died, 20 residents have been quarantined and 154 are suspected of being infected with COVID-19. What has not been reported until now is exactly why the long-term care home was placed under trusteeship.
A resident of the Herron, which charges $6,000 to $10,000 a month, was feeling unwell two weeks ago and took it upon herself to go to St. Mary’s Hospital in Côte-des-neiges to be tested for COVID-19, sources told the Gazette.
Pending the results of the test, the woman was deemed well enough to return home that day, in line with government protocols. When the result came back positive, a nurse at St. Mary’s sought in vain to reach the woman at the Herron, even after trying to go through the administration at the residence.
The nurse decided to contact the Montreal public health department to try to find the infected resident. Police also got involved.
When the public health officials and police arrived at the Herron, they found no one in the building who was in a position of authority, the sources said.
“More importantly, the place was described as something akin to a concentration camp,” said a source who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity.
“There were (two) patients who were dead in their beds,” the source added. “Their deaths had not been recognized. There were patients who had fallen on the floor. There were patients who hadn’t had any basic care for a number of days, diapers that hadn’t been changed for three or four days, excrement that was covering their skin and patients who hadn’t been fed.
“Their whole second floor was infested with COVID,” the source continued. “It was a hot floor. And there were just two orderlies for the entire (137-bed) institution.”
Nurses discovered that some patients were so dehydrated, their mouths so dry, they were unable to speak at first, the sources said. One patient was triple-diapered with feces seeping out. There are concerns some records on medications may have been falsified.
Before the pandemic struck, there were more orderlies at the Herron, but they lacked personal protective equipment, the source said.
Samir Emilie Chowieri, president of Katasa Groupe in charge of the Herron, was unavailable for comment on Friday, according to his wife.
Katherine Chowieri, a spokeswoman for Katasa Groupe, told City News on Wednesday that “it is obvious that we are experiencing some difficulty staffing during these unprecedented times. We are trying our best to keep our staff protected during their work shifts and paying them bonuses.”
“No matter the amount of staff on the floor, we always assure that services are given to our residents and that they are fed, but it may take longer than usual to assist,” she added.
After the discovery at the Herron, a physician pulled her own mother out of the residence, the source said.
“My concern is that there are still people there who will now get better care than they did before, but families had no idea what was going on,” the source said. “And if they knew, maybe, maybe they would want to get their loved ones out of there.”
The Herron is among 15 public and private seniors’ institutions on the West Island that have been hit hard by COVID-19. There are at least 460 suspected cases in the seniors’ homes.
The worst outbreak has occurred in the 202-bed Centre d’hébergement de Lasalle, where 20 people have died, 22 other infected residents have been quarantined and where there are 54 suspected cases, according to an internal government document circulated on Thursday.
Across the street, the longterm care unit at Lasalle Hospital has reported a total of 14 deaths, 25 confirmed cases and 77 suspected ones.
On Monday, a refrigerated truck was spotted outside Lasalle Hospital, but officials from the West Island authority did not reply immediately to queries on whether it was being used to store bodies — a last-resort practice at some hospitals in New York City.
It took the West Island CIUSSS five days to confirm its use.
“Like other CIUSSSES in Quebec, the West Island CIUSSS has proactively planned a temporary morgue,” spokesperson Ariadne Bourbonnière responded in an email Friday morning.
“If the sombre prognosis of a very high number of deaths were to materialize, the CIUSSS could thus treat the remains in a manner as dignified as possible until funeral homes could take care of them.”
Paramedics wheel a resident out of Résidence Herron in Dorval, Que., on Wednesday.