Hanes: Blais’ testimony to the CHSLD investigation raises as many questions as it answers

The version of events presented by the minister responsible for seniors leaves one wondering when long-term care homes first appeared on the radar of those managing the pandemic response in Quebec.

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Older Quebecers may be Marguerite Blais’ passion and the reason she got into politics.

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But when a new coronavirus, particularly deadly for frail elderly people, was about to invade Quebec’s seniors’ residences in the spring of 2020, the minister responsible for it was distraught and powerless to protect them.

This is clear from the long-awaited testimony provided Friday by Blais. She came off sick leave for exhaustion to fill in some of the missing ‘puzzle pieces’ that coroner Géhane Kamel is looking for as part of his investigation to figure out how 4,000 elderly residents ended up dying in care homes of long duration during the first wave of the pandemic.

Kamel said it was “inconceivable” that she could conclude her investigation without Blais’ input.

And indeed, Blais’ version of events raises new questions about when the elderly living in nursing homes first appeared on the radar of those handling the emergency.

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In earlier testimony, former health minister Danielle McCann and former Quebec public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said Quebec began preparing for CHSLDs as early as January. The only evidence of this was a vaguely worded advice from the Deputy Director of Civil Security at the Ministry of Health at the end of the month.

According to Blais’ account, the first time she heard about the vulnerability of seniors was on March 9, 2020, just after spring break, when COVID-19 arrived in Quebec and caused a closure. in a few days. It was mentioned in a World Health Organization notice presented during a crisis unit meeting with Prime Minister François Legault and Arruda. But Blais was not present. She was returning from vacation in Florida.

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When presented with another document prepared for Info-Santé dated February 7 that mentioned that COVID-19 could be potentially harmful to the elderly, Blais said she had not seen it.

Either way, Blais said she concluded care homes had experience dealing with flu or gastro outbreaks, so they would be fine with this new virus.

There was a shortage of orderlies in long-term care before the pandemic and the situation worsened when workers started getting sick, she admitted. Blais bristled when asked if, in hindsight, a directive banning visitors and caregivers from entering the facilities was a “mistake”.

Issuing the order “broke her heart,” she said, but it was done on the advice of public health experts in an effort to stop transmission.

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“I don’t like the term ‘mistake’,” Blais said. “When I say this should never happen again, that’s your answer.”

Kamel intervened.

“It’s a bit ironic.[…]At the same time, carers were told to stay away[…]there was a lack of staff and they came and went between different CHSLDs, ”she said. “That’s what hurts. If you are someone who has lost a family member, you think, “You didn’t take care of my family member and you didn’t let me take care of my family member. I think it’s shock.

Blais’ testimony also sparked new questions about who knew what when about the disaster that unfolded at Le Herron, a private retirement home in Dorval where staffing levels were so critical that residents found themselves without food, dehydrated and wearing soiled diapers. The Montreal Gazette’s Aaron Derfel first reported on the disaster on April 10, 2020, sounding the alarm about the broader crisis plaguing the province.

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The Herron was eventually taken over by the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal. Blais was asked about phone calls and emails alerting her office to unacceptable conditions as early as March 29. She claimed not to know until the publication of the Gazette report.

Kamel noted that it was “surprising” given that Derfel was calling asking for comment.

Blais also became defensive when asked how and when she first became aware that elderly CHSLD residents were suffering and dying from a lack of basic care. She initially dodged the question by reiterating the importance of the investigation and shedding light on everything that happened in the spring of 2020. She had to be reminded that this was precisely why she was at the bar.

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“I can’t give you an answer like that. It’s not white, it’s not black,” she finally said. “Information was coming from everywhere. I can’t say yes, I can’t say no. There was a lack of staff and people were not getting proper care.

In her own words, it now appears that Blais was out of the loop as COVID-19 loomed on Quebec’s doorstep and was not involved in day-to-day decision-making until the elderly were tragically exposed as the blind spot of the government’s reactions. .

Kamel’s investigation is indeed crucial in getting answers for the families who have so cruelly lost loved ones in long-term care homes. But the discrepancies between the accounts of various senior officials warrant a broader public inquiry to get to the bottom of Quebec’s response to the pandemic.

ahanes@postmedia.com

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