Quebec City’s anglophone community is denouncing the conditions of the city’s only bilingual public long-term care home, the Saint Brigid’s Home CHSLD.
In one unit of the building, 43 residents share a single bathtub.
According to Richard Walling, chairman of the Jeffery-Hale-Saint Brigid’s advisory committee, this has an impact on residents’ bathing frequency and causes problems during outbreaks of contagious diseases in the 52-year-old residence.
In November 2019, a gastroenteritis outbreak claimed 11 lives in two weeks and in December 2020, 132 of 142 residents tested positive for COVID-19. More than a third, nearly 50 residents, died during a six-week outbreak.
“We have nice common areas that hide the problems on the floors, in their living environment,” said Bryan O’Gallagher, president of the Jeffery-Hale Hospital-Saint Brigid’s Home board of governors.
Following an analysis of the health of the building and its systems by the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale, Saint Brigid’s Home was graded an E, “the worst grade,” said O’Gallagher.
With a provincial byelection in the Jean-Talon riding where the long-term care home is located, coming up Monday, O’Gallagher is calling on the next elected official to “understand the reality of the facility that serves the entire Quebec City community,” and the “importance of treating our seniors with dignity and respect.”
Though he says wouldn’t describe the building as “decrepit” but rather old and poorly adapted for its purposes, O’Gallagher said new construction is essential. He says refurbishing the existing facilities still wouldn’t get them up to current standards.
‘Significant functional obsolescence’
The CHSLD was built in 1971 and has 142 places, 11 of which are in a specialized unit for residents with cognitive problems requiring closer supervision.
Some residents’ bathrooms are so small that an attendant cannot enter at the same time as the person requiring care, especially if the latter uses a walker or wheelchair. No resident has a shower in the bathroom accessible from their room.
“We’re talking about extremely narrow corridors that prevent two wheelchairs from passing at the same time, and 43 people for a single bathroom [for body care], which isn’t up to standards,” said O’Gallagher.
But the CIUSSS, which acknowledges that Saint Brigid’s has “significant functional obsolescence,” also says the building “undergoes regular repairs and maintenance, and remains well-maintained and safe.”
The CIUSSS says it hopes the Ministry of Health and Social Services will approve Saint-Brigid’s as part of the Plan québécois des infrastructures (PQI), which subsidizes repairs.
Kerry-Anne King, president of the Saint Brigid’s residents’ committee, has several relatives who have lived — or are currently living — there. She volunteers or visits about five days a month.
She says the two elevators are insufficient to move residents between floors and the rooms, which are a dozen square meters, are so small that residents don’t feel comfortable.
“Here, we want to say it’s their home, but it’s really not like that. It’s small and there’s not enough room for their things,” she said, adding that some struggle to find a place to put family photos.
She says staffing is also an issue. For example, residents are meant to bathe twice a week, but these days they get one bath per week as staffing is stretched. She said residents still receive daily hygiene care such as sponge baths.
King says the facility needs to be rebuilt to allow residents to stay as healthy as possible and have a safe and homey environment.
“But I must say that the community and the staff [and] the management work very hard to make Saint Brigid’s Home a really lovely place to be,” she said.
“So I would say that a lot of the physical difficulties, you can see beyond them on a day-to-day basis.”
Byelection candidates react
Marie-Anik Shoiry of the Coalition Avenir Québec said she recently visited the CHSLD and described the building as “antiquated” and pledged to move the reconstruction project forward with the government.
“Our seniors deserve living environments on a human scale that are adapted to their needs,” she said.
Liberal Élise Avard Bernier said that if elected she would make the project a priority, as she mentioned at Radio-Canada’s debate last week.
“The dignity of seniors is at stake,” she said.
Québec Solidaire’s Olivier Bolduc said it is “unacceptable that people from the generation that built today’s Quebec” live in buildings that are not adapted to their needs.
He said the government must take on the responsibility and respond to the CHSLD’s request for a PQI evaluation. If elected, he promises to work closely with the English-speaking community.
Conservative candidate Jesse Robitaille said he would push for the facility to be registered with the PQI.
Parti Québécois candidate Pascal Paradis said Saint Brigid’s Home is “deeply rooted in the community” with a highly engaged staff.
“This dynamism contrasts with the building’s dilapidation and clearly inadequate facilities, including the bathrooms,” he said, stressing he would pressure the government to move forward on the work needed.
Quebec’s minister responsible for seniors, Sonia Bélanger, said she met the management, staff and residents at Saint Brigid’s. She said she believes the staff offers quality care, adding that the complaints relate to the age of the facilities.
She said the government is currently evaluating the state of CHSLDs in the province and 19 are set to be refurbished.