MONTREAL — The Quebec coroner investigating the deaths at elder care homes during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic assured health workers they were not at fault and deserve respect for the working conditions they endured.
"Rest assured that the coroner's office doesn't lay blame on health-care workers," coroner Géhane Kamel said. "And each individual who went to work, whether in a CHSLD (long-term care home) or at the hospital, has nothing but thanks and respect from us."
The comments came as a witness, a worker who'd treated residents at Résidence Herron, had ended her testimony by asking what would be done for staff who endured the situation and treated residents as best as they could given the circumstances but had the finger pointed at them as if they'd let patients die.
The coroner sought to reassure the witness, noting her final report will include observations on their working conditions.
Kamel's mandate is to investigate 53 deaths at six long-term care homes and one seniors residence — including 47 at Herron — during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, front-line staff at Herron during the height of the first wave recounted their distress and the impact of a lack of staff, testifying in tears.
Some ended up with COVID-19 themselves and one spent a week in hospital.
Another told the inquest how she washed and changed a deceased resident to give him some dignity. Another recounted that so many residents were soiled, something she'd never experienced in her lengthy career.
One witness said "the bell didn't stop ringing" and she didn't know where to turn. Employees were overwhelmed as many colleagues had left the job, either sick or in isolation because they'd come into contact with a positive case. Others were simply scared.
Staff testified that masks were lacking and they said they were required to wear a single mask during an entire shift. There was also a lack of towels and adult diapers for residents.
Even before the pandemic, Herron had problems recruiting and keeping staff, and there had been turnover among the nursing team, witnesses said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.
The Canadian Press