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COVID-19 in Quebec: In mea culpa, Legault says he should have raised wages of long-term care workers long ago

Premier François Legault offered a candid mea culpa Friday for the “deteriorating” situation in the province’s long-term care residences, many of them crippled by the COVID-19 crisis even as daily data suggests Quebec has reached or is nearing the other side of the pandemic’s first wave of infection.

Quebec has reached a summit in terms of the number of cases, said Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, but the peak of deaths and hospitalizations will likely lag behind because of the way coronavirus infections progress.

The province now has 16,798 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — an increase of 941. There were 58 more deaths recorded, bringing the total to 688. There are now 1,076 people in hospital, including 207 in intensive care.

Although Quebecers have successfully flattened the curve and avoided an overall health-care crisis, Arruda said, the infection curve in CHSLDs — the province’s long-term care homes — has not similarly flattened. The consequences have been devastating, with fatalities in CHSLDs, both public and private, accounting for more than half of all COVID-19 deaths — 54.8 per cent — recorded by the province.

In strikingly frank remarks at the start of his update, Legault said he took “full responsibility” for that situation and that he should have done more, much earlier in his government’s mandate, to address staffing shortages in those long-term care residences.

If it could be redone, Legault said, “I would have increased salaries faster” to deal with the chronic shortage of health-care workers in CHSLDs.

Legault said he has lingered on the fact that “we didn’t better care for the elderly, the most vulnerable.”

Right now, with many workers sick or forced into self-isolation as the coronavirus sweeps through long-term care homes, the premier said there is a shortfall of 1,800 health-care workers exacerbating the staffing problems that already existed.

Legault said the province has been working through thousands of offers of help from Quebecers through their recruiting portal, Je Contribue, and asked for patience from people concerned their efforts to assist were being ignored.

Almost 52,000 people have offered their services, Legault said, and the province has contacted nearly 30,000 of them. The province has hired 6,773 people — 4,676 of whom are already working — and a further 2,097 declined offers.

$42M for agriculture sector

Quebec is putting forward a $42.6 million package to support the province’s agricultural sector, which is projected to have a shortfall of 8,000 temporary foreign workers this season due to the pandemic.

That money will be invested in recruiting about 8,500 out-of-work Quebecers and students, and training them to take to the fields and keep local farms going strong.

Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne said this package is crucial to ensure the province’s food security. Quebec has the capacity to feed itself, but farms need help, he said.

He said the hope is that Quebecers will see that need and take on the challenge. As for everybody else, he encourages people to buy local to support the province’s economy.

The plan will offer field workers training and a $100 weekly bonus to those who work at least 25 hours a week. Generally, farmhands earn minimum wage, which is $13.10 in Quebec.

The majority of the funding will go to paying that weekly bonus, but another $2 million will go toward transporting workers to the fields. There will also be $200,000 for hiring trainers to help new workers integrate and $200,000 to connect workers to the industry.

Earlier in the day, the premier pitched once again that Quebecers offer their help to agricultural producers.

Doing farm work “is a beautiful experience,” Legault said, adding that it’s possible to work in fields and obey physical-distancing directives, staying two metres apart from fellow workers.

Montreal officials watch for decline in new cases

Montreal’s rate of infection curve is levelling off, and the city’s public health officials hope to see a decrease in the number of new cases in the coming days.

Public Health Director Mylène Drouin has warned, however, that Montreal can expect to see the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations rise in the coming weeks, as more of the people infected experience complications of the disease.

The number of deaths in the province as a whole rose sharply Thursday, but Legault says that’s because Quebec has started to include probable cases in that number.

Legault has said provincial officials would no longer be providing updates on weekends, unless there is important news.

The premier explained Thursday that not all the deaths happened in the last 24 hours — public health authorities have decided to factor in some who have died recently but never tested positive for the coronavirus.

The goal, he said, is to get closer to the true number of deaths due to COVID-19.

Among the dead is Dr. Huy Hao Dao, 44, a community health specialist from the Monterégie region — the first Quebec doctor to fall victim to the pandemic.

Quebec long-term care homes continue to struggle with staffing issues, while the number of positive COVID-19 cases at those establishments continues to rise.

At the publicly owned CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval, Radio-Canada learned 55 people have died since March 17, a number eight times that of the home’s usual monthly death rate.

The daughter of a woman who died after contracting the coronavirus at CHSLD Herron in Dorval wants to pursue the private residence in a class action lawsuit, claiming at least $2 million in damages.

Thirty-one people died at the home in less than a month. The local health board, the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île, stepped in March 29, and soon took over management at the home.

The lawsuit application alleges the residence “subjected the residents of the CHSLD Herron to neglect, mistreatment, pain and discomfort, and have robbed them of their dignity.”

Legault says long-term care homes are facing a shortfall of about 2,000 staff, but that 2,000 medical specialists have offered to step in since his appeal to them Wednesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Friday morning that 125 medically trained military personnel are on the way to Quebec long-term care homes to help out.

CBC

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