COVID-19: Quebec coroner's inquest told of 'dehydrated' long-term care residents

Funeral home workers remove a body from CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée on April 13, 2020, in Laval Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL - Some residents of a Montreal-area long-term care home likely died of dehydration during the first wave of COVID-19 in the province, an occupational therapist told a Quebec coroner's inquest on Monday.

The therapist, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified during hearings into the deaths at a long-term care facility in Montreal's northern suburb of Laval. One hundred and two residents of CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée died in the first wave last year, and in April 2020, about two-thirds of the facility's employees were off sick.

The therapist said staff shortages prevented employees from properly caring for seniors and other vulnerable people living in the home, and many residents were barely hydrated and had eaten little before they died.

"There were probably some who died of dehydration," the witness said, despite the efforts of personnel who "didn't have time" to do more for them. The witness said the shortages resulted in the residents' basic hygiene being neglected.

One resident developed bedsores and spent hours in soiled incontinence briefs and another began crying when she finally had a bath because she was so happy to be washed, the therapist said.

Other patients had to be restrained to prevent them from moving around, including one man with dementia who kept trying to use the telephone. "I had to attach him to his chair because he wanted to talk to his wife," the witness said.

Patients were left in their rooms without any exercise or physical therapy, which affected their ability to walk, the witness testified.

She told the inquest she had volunteered to help at the long-term care home and had received no training, adding that she had witnessed a director break down screaming and crying in front of staff members.

Another witness, a dietitian, described Sainte-Dorothée on Monday as a "ship without a captain" that was so disorganized it sometimes took days for the kitchen staff to be informed of a patient's death before they stopped sending them meals.

A patient attendant who worked at night testified Monday they had been left alone to care for a floor of 34 patients, some of whom had a tendency to wander from their rooms.

During this time, the night co-ordinator often remained in her office, saying she didn't have time to help, according to the witness.

While two assistant directors at the Laval health authority have previously testified that all staff at the home were tested for COVID-19 in early April 2020, the patient attendant said Monday that among the night staff, "nobody was aware that there had been testing."

Coroner Géhane Kamel's mandate is to investigate the deaths of people at six long-term care homes and one seniors residence in the province. Deaths at seniors facilities and long-term care homes accounted for half of the COVID-19-related fatalities in Quebec during the first wave of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2021.

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