The 81-year-old resident of Montreal’s Saint-Joseph-de-la-Providence long-term care home died three days after a Red Cross worker helping out at the residence had found her in an appalling state.
The Quebec coroner’s office is investigating the death of an elderly woman who, three days before her death, had been found tied to her bed, naked and soiled, in a long-term care residence in Montreal’s Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough.
The 81-year-old woman, identified by Radio-Canada as Marie M., died overnight on Feb. 8 at the Centre d’hébergement Saint-Joseph-de-la-Providence.
The residence is publicly funded but privately operated by the Congrégation des Soeurs de la Providence.
Radio-Canada reported that a Canadian Red Cross worker helping out at the home due to a COVID-19 outbreak had been appalled to find the woman restrained, naked and left in her own excrement.
In response to a Radio-Canada report published Thursday, Quebec’s chief coroner will look into the cause and circumstances of the woman’s death. The regional health agency responsible for the home, the CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, says it has also opened an investigation.
‘It’s nothing new’: seniors’ advocate
Seniors’ advocates say they’re horrified by the reported condition in which Marie M. was left, but they’re not surprised.
“It’s nothing new. I am not surprised to see an event like that,” said Pierre Lynch, head of a provincewide seniors’ rights group (AQDR).
Lynch said the situation is the latest to come to light, but there have been many similar cases of neglect and mistreatment of elderly residents at long-term care homes, especially in those hard hit by the pandemic.
“It’s unacceptable that for a situation like that, an investigation is not done faster than what’s being done presently,” he said.
The Red Cross support worker found the woman restrained and in need of hygienic care on Feb. 5, said Red Cross spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Pariseau.
The worker immediately informed the staff at the home that the woman needed assistance, but it wasn’t until after a shift change that she was attended to, said Pariseau. He said the Red Cross worker then helped nursing staff clean the resident — a task that Red Cross support workers are not normally authorized to carry out.
“While our service aides are not entitled to judge whether or not this is a case of abuse, we have informed the [Ministry of Health] of a possible case of neglect,” Pariseau said. He said the ministry was informed of the situation Feb. 17, after the Red Cross ended its three-week mission at the residence.
Neither the residence’s administrators nor the union representing nurses and nurses’ aides, the SQEES-FTQ, had any comment on the Red Cross complaint. However, sources told Radio-Canada the home is chronically short-staffed, relying on an agency to supply temporary workers. They said with only two nurses’ aides for every 25 residents, frequently residents are left with overflowing diapers.
In the case of Marie M., sources said the woman was known to be aggressive and would shout and lash out at staff, to the point where they’d retreat from her room. They said she would only allow one particular nurse’s aide to change her, so she was frequently left in soiled incontinence underwear until the end of the day.
No inspection by Health Ministry
Despite the report to the province, no inspection was carried out by the Health Ministry. A ministry spokesperson, Marjorie Larouche, said the matter was turned over to the regional authority “to ensure the appropriate follow-up measures.”
Lynch of the AQDR said the government needs to “reinvent the system” of caring for seniors, “because the way it’s set up is not working correctly.”
“We need to have some long-term solutions, not short-term [band-aids] like we have presently — like giving a couple hundred million dollars for this, $5 million for that,” he said.
“We need to make sure these people get the proper care at the proper time,” he said, and there has to be a major investment in home care.
Officials at Saint-Joseph-de-la-Providence turned down CBC’s interview request but said they plan to participate in the investigation by the Quebec coroner, as well as the one underway at the regional health agency.
Seniors minister wants ‘the whole story’
Medical malpractice lawyer Patrick Martin-Ménard said the case is worrisome and an extreme example of how measures of last resort, such as restraining a resident, are sometimes overused.
“They are used as a way to compensate for a staffing shortage,” he said. “I think there is a real lack of training in CHSLDs to deal with any type of clientele that can pose particular challenges.”
“There is absolutely no excuse.”
Marguerite Blais, Quebec’s minister for seniors, said she has ordered an internal investigation of the entire incident.
“I want the whole story,” said Blais.
The minister said she is “very angry” that it took several days for the ministry to advise her of the situation.
She always wants to see better training for health-care workers caring for residents with cognitive impairment.
Provincial legislators are currently studying Bill 101, proposed legislation aimed at preventing abuses in seniors’ homes.
If passed, the law will require health-care personnel to report any situation of mistreatment they witness, subject to fines of $2,500 to $25,000 for failing to do so — and fines up to $250,000 for businesses that try to stop someone from reporting alleged abuse.
Based on a report by Radio Canada’s Thomas Gerbet, Davide Gentile, files from Sharon Yonan Renold