Breaking News: Maimonides Sends COVID Patients to Hospital to Curb Outbreak

Dec. 1, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – A rapidly worsening COVID outbreak at Maimonides Geriatric Centre has been brought under temporary control by transferring infected residents to hospital, but family members say more needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.

On Nov. 29, 20 residents were taken by ambulance from the Cote Saint-Luc long-term care facility’s “hot zone.” Two acutely ill residents were brought to the Jewish General Hospital and the rest to Hotel Dieu Hospital, which has a unit dedicated to less severely ill patients from nursing and seniors’ homes.

Maimonides’s hot zone for active cases, located on its uppermost seventh floor, is closed for now.

The move was made after some relatives held a demonstration outside Maimonides on Nov. 26, fearing the facility had lost control of the viral spread. They claimed infection prevention measures were inadequate, that a shortage of nursing and support staff was resulting in repeated movement between cold, warm and hot zones, and that infected residents were not getting the medical treatment they needed.

They appealed to Premier Francois Legault to take immediate action.

Active cases went from zero to over 50 in a couple of weeks, the most at any long-term care home in the province at that point, although not the highest per capita rate. Eight residents had previously been sent to hospital. Ten residents have died, while others recovered.

In addition, more than 20 staff members and about a dozen registered caregivers – either family members or workers privately hired – have tested positive and had to quarantine at home.

Maimonides was hard hit by COVID in the first wave, when one-third of residents had the virus and 39 succumbed to it, according to Quebec government statistics. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and later the Canadian Red Cross were brought in.

During this second wave, administrators had insisted the situation was in hand, that stringent infection prevention measures were in place, and that staffing overall met government requirements, until relatives raised their voices ever louder that this was not what they observed. They received support from Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and local Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum.

In a Nov. 29 public message under the heading “Mission accomplished!” Barbra Gold, an official of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the regional health authority that manages Maimonides, confirmed that the residents’ transfer to hospital had been completed that day.

“We hope that this temporary closing of our hot zone will break the cycle of infection in our facility,” she stated.

Gold said that 10 other residents with active COVID who had been in the hot zone remain at Maimonides, explaining, “our medical team determined they could be safely returned to their rooms (in other areas).”

Caregivers are not allowed to visit the residents at Hotel Dieu, she said, but an effort is being made to set up FaceTime calls. They were accompanied to Hotel Dieu by the nurses and orderlies who had tended to them at Maimonides. The CIUSSS has arranged for kosher food to be available there.

Gold added that a virtual town hall with families is being planned to address concerns.

The day before, Gold communicated that an evaluation of Maimonides’s COVID isolation unit by public health authorities, infectious disease specialists and the institution’s health care professionals had been conducted. A “contributing factor” to the virus’s rapid spread, they believe, was “a high density of very contagious individuals in a relatively small area that has not been built to accommodate them.” That seventh-floor wing was sealed off with plastic sheeting.

Another CIUSSS official, associate chief executive officer Francine Dupuis, told the media that the ventilation system may have been another factor. She also said the origin of the outbreak was traced to a caregiver, who was asymptomatic and later tested positive.

The Family Advocacy Committee, which staged the demonstration, is now calling for mandatory weekly testing of all employees and visitors to Maimonides. Its chair, Joyce Shanks, whose 92-year-old father is a resident, deplored that testing is now voluntary and only required when a positive case occurs in a unit.

The committee would also like to see the return of the Red Cross or of the health department’s “swat team,” which shores up staff when an outbreak reaches a critical level.

The CIUSSS says that, as of Dec. 7, all registered caregivers at Maimonides and other CHSLD under its jurisdiction, which includes the Jewish Eldercare Centre, must be tested every two weeks, either on-site or at any testing centre in the province. Written proof of a negative result must be shown or they will be barred. Maimonides has an on-site clinic three days a week, and Eldercare twice a week.

Since the second wave began, the 320-bed Eldercare has had total of 17 cases among its residents of which 10 are now active, attending physician Dr. Mark Karanofsky reported. Two residents have died. Two positive staff are currently isolating at home. Karanofsky himself came down with COVID in late October and has recovered.

Second COVID Wave Hits Montreal Jewish Community

Oct. 15, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The surge in COVID in Quebec is affecting the Montreal Jewish community no less seriously than the rest of the population.

The impact of a record number of new cases in the province is clearly seen in Jewish schools. Hebrew Academy is the second day school that has had to close temporarily because of an outbreak of the coronavirus, and Akiva School was added to the rapidly growing list of schools in Quebec that have cases.

Hebrew Academy switched both its elementary and high school to online learning at home until Oct. 19 after “a number” of people at the school tested positive, the administration informed parents.

Hebrew Academy, located in Cote St. Luc, said it took the decision “preventatively” in collaboration with the Montreal public health department, and will reassess the situation after the 14-day shutdown.

After three infected students were found at Akiva, an elementary school in Westmount next door to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, two classes were sent home to learn remotely for the quarantine period. Head of School Rabbi Eric Grossman told the school community that the source of the outbreak is “directly linked to community spread (not school spread).”

Herzliah High School was the first Jewish school to record positive cases, and had to close on Sept. 17 for two weeks when the number grew to at least 15 students and one teacher. It was the first school in Quebec to have to take that measure.

Other schools that have had confirmed cases are Talmud Torah, Beth Rivkah Academy, Solomon Schechter Academy, and Yechiva Yavné, as well as the Yaldei School for children with special needs.

As of Oct. 10, the independent website covidecolesquebec.org listed 941 schools in the province that had at least one confirmed COVID case since the start of the school year.

There are other indications that the incidence of COVID is rising in Montreal’s Jewish community, which remains under the province’s highest alert until at least Oct. 28. This trend is despite strenuous efforts to adhere to COVID containment regulations, which was especially challenging over the three-week High Holiday period.

A six-storey mural paying tribute to health-care workers during the COVID crisis was inaugurated at the Jewish General Hospital in September, with support from the consular corps in Montreal, including Israel. (CIUSSS West-Central Montreal photo)

Cote St. Luc, a city of 34,000, the majority Jewish, is being red-flagged by the Montreal public health department after new cases went from 45 between Sept. 22-28, to 63 from Sept. 29-Oct. 5, even though it has been probably the most pro-active municipality since the outset of the pandemic.

Citing the many older residents, numerous religious and long-term care institutions, and residential density, Cote St. Luc’s city council declared a state of emergency in March and, in June, was the first jurisdiction in the province to require face coverings in indoor public spaces and to reduce gatherings to 10.

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein is now asking Quebec to permit the city to extend the mask regulation to common areas of apartments and condominiums.

The borough of Outremont currently has the highest per capita number of COVID cases on the island of Montreal, and public health officials say they are working closely with the Hasidic community that lives there to ensure adherence to the rules.

However, the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec, which stresses compliance with government guidelines, thinks the uptick in the last few weeks only parallels what is happening in Montreal as a whole and can’t be termed an outbreak.

COVID has been brought under control in the two major Jewish nursing homes. Jewish Eldercare Centre had an outbreak in March and April of over 50 cases.

Maimonides Geriatric Centre, starting in April, would see a third of its 380 residents contract the virus and 39 die from it. It was one of the facilities that the Canadian Armed Forces was sent to this summer to ease the staff shortage.

The personal devastation of COVID is recounted by acclaimed cellist Denis Brott, who continues to recover from a near-fatal bout. His first public performance after 3-1/2 months of rehabilitation was at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, where he played the Max Bruch melody on Kol Nidre.

He spoke then for the first time about his ordeal. After returning to Montreal in mid-March from concerts in Europe, Brott, 69, became extremely ill. He spent 45 days in hospital – 32 of them on a ventilator in an induced coma.

He suffered complications involving the kidneys and liver. 

By his release on May 4, he had lost 25 kilos, and could barely stand, let alone walk. He had nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps worst of all, severe neuropathy in his hands prevented him from playing his instrument.

To get to where he could again perform the beloved Yom Kippur prayer “took resolve I did not know I had,” said the founder and artistic director of the annual Montreal Chamber Music Festival. “…Losing what I love and finding it again has been somewhat miraculous.”