Quebec needs ‘a new way’ for CHSLDs, critics say

For years, patient-rights advocate Paul Brunet read with despair report after report about the pitiful state of the province’s network of long-term care centres.

In 2003, it was the report of a public inquest into allegations that orderlies hit frail patients at the St-Charles-Borromée nursing home in downtown Montreal. More than a decade later, in 2015, it was a coroner’s report into the deaths of 32 elderly people in a fire that swept through a mostly sprinkler-free private senior’s residence in L’Isle-Verte.

In 2017, it was a report by provincial ombudsman Marie Rinfret, who deplored the trend in long-term care centres tightening admission criteria, which have resulted in long wait times to get into such residences.

But Thursday’s assessment by Rinfret was by far the most damning. She used words like “mistreatment” and “deficient” to describe government-run nursing homes, known in French as CHSLDs. What’s especially galling, Brunet noted, is that Rinfret’s report was made public even after repeated declarations by the previous Liberal government that CHSLDs were on the mend.

“The situation has gotten worse,” Brunet said. “Examples of mistreatment have become ordinary occurrences in long-term care facilities.”

Brunet is far from alone in observing such a sharp deterioration. A Snowdon woman called the Montreal Gazette on Friday to decry the shoddy treatment of her late brother at a Lachine long-term care centre, where she said the staff often left her brother in dirty diapers, were slow to bathe him and never brushed his teeth.

“In the last three years he had to suffer in this horrible place,” Donna Friedlansky-Held said in an interview, alluding to the Centre d’hébergement Camille-Lefebvre, part of the McGill University Health Centre.

“I had to get an electric tooth brush to brush his teeth and we shaved him. They never did that. It made us feel horrible that we could walk away, go home and leave him there.”

Gerald Friedlansky, who was 80, died on Oct. 2 at Camille-Lefebvre. Although the facility has long-term care patients, it’s technically not a CHSLD.

Stephanie Tsirgiotis, an MUHC spokesperson, said the hospital network will contact Friedlansky’s family.

“This is the first time the (MUHC) has been made aware of these claims,” Tsirgiotis said by email. “The MUHC will contact the family for more information, and will look into these elements closely. After reviewing the findings, we will make adjustments to our practices if deemed necessary.”

Brunet, executive director of the Conseil pour la protection des malades, blamed the cost-cutting administrative reforms of the previous Liberal government, spearheaded by former health minister Gaétan Barrette, for the crisis in CHSLDs.

“It got worse with the Liberal-Barrette reforms that centralized authority that was like a chicken with no head,” Brunet said.

In her report, Rinfret attributed a shortage of staff, or workers calling in sick, for the fact that weekly baths are often postponed, people are not taken out of bed for as long as 36 consecutive hours, and a slow response time to call bells and alarms.

On Friday, the province’s largest seniors’ group, the Réseau FADOQ, urged the CAQ government to “rapidly address” the many problems highlighted in Rinfret’s report.

“The Réseau FADOQ does not want cast stones at the CHSLD staff,” Maurice Dupont, the group’s president, said in a statement. “In fact, the Réseau has been a long-time advocate for raising the staff-to-resident ratios and improving working conditions in order to make the profession of orderlies more attractive.”

Hours after Rinfret released her report Thursday, the minister responsible for the province’s seniors, Marguerite Blais, acknowledged the ombudsman’s findings were “extremely troubling.” Blais said she had already studied possible solutions with Premier François Legault and Health Minister Danielle McCann.

Those may be encouraging words, but Brunet warned that more than 2,800 elderly and disabled Quebecers are waiting to be admitted into CHSLDs across the province.

“We’re asking the new government for a new way of doing things with better standards and better ways to treat patients,” Brunet added.

The Conseil pour la protection des malades has called for a law to regulate the quality of care in CHSLDs, or Centres d’hébergement de soins de longue durée. In the meantime, the group is proceeding with a $500-million class action against the government over the “shameful” treatment of long-term care residents.

aderfel@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Aaron_Derfel

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