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Legault takes 'full responsibility' for shortages in struggling care homes

Premier François Legault speaks to the media on Apr. 17, 2020. (CREDIT: Media Pool)

MONTREAL – Quebec Premier Francois Legault says he takes “full responsibility” for the lack of orderlies in struggling long-term care homes, where more than half of the province’s 688 deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred.

Legault told reporters Friday he didn’t want to get into a fight with the health-care unions when he first took office in 2018, and therefore decided to hold off on paying them more until contract negotiations began.

Daily COVID-19 update from François Legault

Premier François Legault will provide an update on Quebec's response to COVID-19.

Posted by CityNews Montreal on Friday, April 17, 2020

Historically, the unions representing workers such as orderlies, nurses and other staff in Quebec’s health-care system negotiate as a large group to leverage bargaining power. The collective agreement for all health-care personnel was only set to expire at the end of March 2020.

“I admit it: If I had to redo it, I would have increased their salaries faster _ even without the OK of the unions,” Legault said about the orderlies. The province is currently lacking about 1,800 people to work in the residences, where some of Quebec’s most vulnerable and disabled seniors live.

But the shortages of staff for long-term care homes predated the COVID-19 crisis by years. Legault acknowledged that even though he knew unions would have objected to a divisive approach to negotiating salary increases, he could have forced their hand through a special law or through a ministerial decree.

“We came into this crisis poorly equipped and the situation deteriorated when the virus came in,” he said. “I take full responsibility.”

The province had to resort to pleading with family doctors and medical specialists to leave their practices and help in the long-term care homes to feed, wash and care for the elderly. Legault also welcomed Friday the 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces that will be heading to the province to help in those senior residences.

Quebec on Friday reported a total of 16,798 cases in province and 58 new COVID-19-related deaths. Of the total 668 COVID-19 deaths in the province, 377 of them – almost 55 per cent – occurred in long-term care homes.

Legault said that while 1,076 people are hospitalized, with 207 of those in intensive care, the COVID-19 situation in Quebec is largely stable outside the Montreal area.

“In the rest of Quebec … the situation is pretty much under control,” he said. “We are looking … to open up these regions in an intelligent way, in a gradual way, while ensuring we follow up on the situation to make sure we don’t face a second wave of the virus.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.