Montreal Geriatric Centres Battling COVID Outbreak

Nov. 18, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Less than a month after declaring it was COVID-free, Maimonides Geriatric Centre is trying to contain a serious outbreak among residents, as well as staff and outside caregivers.

On Nov. 17, the long-term care institution reported that 26 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and that three have died since the start of the second wave.

In addition, 16 staff have been infected, as well as six registered caregivers. The latter are either family members or private personal support workers permitted to regularly visit a resident, under strict conditions. Maimonides says five other caregivers earlier tested positive, but have recovered.

All infected staff remain at home.

Maimonides, a 380-bed facility in Cote Saint-Luc, was hard hit by COVID in the spring and summer. According to government statistics, a third of the residents contracted the illness and 39 died during that period.

The virus appears to be spreading rapidly. On Nov. 13, Maimonides reported that 16 residents and 11 staff had tested positive, and no deaths were announced.

The positive residents, all from the second and third floors, have been moved to a sealed-off ward occupying half of the uppermost seventh floor.

All residents who were cared for by the 16 infected staff members, who worked on the second, third, fourth and sixth floors, have been placed in isolation elsewhere while they await their test results. Also isolated are those residents who were tended by the 11 infected caregivers, who were present in various units.

Five wings on the second to sixth floors are now designated “warm zones” for precautionary isolation where only essential medical appointments are permitted and all other services and activities considered non-essential are on hold.

“We are currently looking at different strategies for minimizing the introduction by caregivers of the virus into our facility,” states the public message, signed by Maimonides co-chiefs Dr. Jack Gaiptman and Dr. Kris MacMahon, and site coordinator Jennifer Clarke. On-site testing for caregivers is now available three days a week.

The first case of a resident contracting COVID in the second wave was reported on Nov. 4, and was traced to a staff member who had tested positive. On Oct. 31, Maimonides reported that three staff members had been found positive, and other staff with whom they had been in contact were being tested.

That was just 12 days after the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents at Maimonides and the Jewish Eldercare Centre.

This regional health authority, which administers the institutions, said that the “hot zones” at both facilities would therefore be made available for outside COVID-positive patients who are medically stable but require more care than is available where they live, such as seniors’ residences, or who are not strong enough to go home after hospitalization.

These patients would be from the geographical territory this CIUSSS oversees.

To date, no such patients have been admitted.

Eldercare, a 380-bed institution in the Cote-des-Neiges district, is also dealing with a new COVID outbreak. It was hit even harder in the first wave than Maimonides, suffering a rash of cases and deaths from the beginning of the pandemic in March.

On Oct. 31, families of Eldercare residents were advised that one resident and two employees on the fourth floor of its Hope pavilion had tested positive by attending physician Dr. Mark Karanofsky.

Days later, that had grown to four residents and seven staff on the same floor.

All infected residents are confined to the hot zone and attended by staff working only with them, said Karanofsky. The presence of “COVID agents” was increased to ensure sanitary practices were being followed by staff and registered caregivers.

On Nov. 2, Karanofsky reported that he had tested positive after showing symptoms of a cough and headache. 

He said the last time he was in the Eldercare building was Oct. 27 and that he had always worn a mask and face shield when he was with a resident.

In his latest communication on Nov. 17, Karanofsky said there were eight active cases among residents and two among staff, all from the Hope pavilion’s fourth floor. Having isolated for two weeks, he said he had been cleared to return to work.

Over the past few weeks throughout Quebec, there has been a spike in COVID cases in long-term care centres. Maimonides and Eldercare are now on the government’s watch list, ranked in the yellow zone below the more serious orange and red zones.

Among private seniors’ residences which provide intermediate care, the government has placed the kosher Le Waldorf in Cote Saint-Luc in the yellow category after nine residents, or five per cent of the total, came down with the illness. Two deaths are recorded.

Families Protest Possible Admission of COVID Patients to Nursing Homes

Oct. 28, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Families of residents of the long-term care institutions Maimonides Geriatric Centre and Jewish Eldercare Centre, which were hard-hit by COVID this spring and summer, are pleading with health officials to halt a plan to admit outside patients with the virus to recuperate in those facilities.

Jewish Edlercare

“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they thinking?’” Helen Adam, president of the users’ committee at Maimonides, told the CJR. At the outbreak’s worst, one-third of Maimonides’s 380 residents were infected and 39 would die, in addition to the staff members who tested positive. It took reinforcement by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and then the Red Cross to get the situation under control.

Eldercare had an even more difficult time from the outset of the pandemic in March, and lost more residents.

On Oct. 19, CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the government health agency that administers Maimonides and Eldercare, informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents and that the “hot zones” at both sites would, if necessary, accommodate certain people with the virus who live in the geographic territory served by the CIUSSS.

The email, signed by Barbra Gold, director of the CIUSSS’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors, states that these beds would be for “COVID-positive patients who are medically stable (do not require hospitalization) but require a greater level of care than what is being offered at their current locations, such as private seniors’ residences, intermediate resources or those recovered in hospital who are not strong enough to go home.”

To date, no such transfers have been made and Gold noted that “every effort” is being made to keep such patients where they are. She added, “We are confident that this approach will not compromise the health and well-being of our residents and is in the best interest of the community we serve.”

Adam said families are flabbergasted that after waging such a lengthy battle to contain the virus – which included stopping visits for months and moving residents to different rooms and makeshift spaces to separate the infected from those who were not – the two institutions are now being opened to ill people from the community.

At Maimonides, the hot zone is located in part of the uppermost seventh floor. Adam said she is fearful that staff will inevitably move to other areas of the building despite the best intentions.

“I think Quebec has gone out of its mind. They try one thing one week and another the next. Now it looks like they are setting us up as an adjunct to the hospitals. People are so scared and confused,” said Adam.

Asked by the CJR to respond, the CIUSSS emailed a statement that those with COVID will be moved “only as a last resort” and with extra precautions.

“If and when any COVID-positive individuals arrive at the facility, they will not come into contact with uninfected residents. They will be put into designated hot zones that are separated by permanent walls from the other residents and the other units,” it said.

“They and the staff who care for them will also use designated elevators that will be unavailable to other residents and personnel. As well, they will receive care from dedicated members of the staff—in other words, the COVID-positive person or their health care provider should not have any contact with the other residents, caregivers or health care teams at Maimonides or Jewish Eldercare.”

West-Central Montreal adds that, “like every CIUSSS throughout the province, we are required to provide residents in our area with emergency spaces in a non-traditional site, such as a long-term care centre.”

This is not reassuring to Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier. The retired high school teacher is afraid of another COVID outbreak and has little confidence in the institution’s ability to deal with it.

“This is supposed to be our home, not a hospital,” she said, still traumatized by the upheaval that took place earlier this year. “We’ve already been through hell. I don’t want to live in a war zone again.”

In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, the users’ committee says a “highly vulnerable population” is being put at risk and suggests an alternative. “There are many virtually empty hotels, who would probably welcome the work. Why not use them?

“We appeal to you M. Legault to rethink this directive.”

The committee has also reached out to the Conseil pour la protection des malades, a group defending the rights of users of the health care system.

Adam’s mother, who lived for six years at Maimonides, died in May, but not of COVID. Adam thinks many residents’ passing, including her mother’s, was due to the loneliness and stress caused by the pandemic restrictions. She did not see her mother in person from mid-March until just before her death when she was allowed to visit on compassionate grounds.

She does not want that to happen again to any other residents or their relatives.

By the official count, more than 6,100 people in Quebec have died of COVID, the great majority of them residents of nursing homes or seniors’ facilities.