A woman prays in front of the Herron seniors residence Monday April 13, 2020 in Dorval near Montreal's Trudeau airport. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Coroner’s inquest begins into Montreal-area care home where dozens died of COVID-19

Inquest to ‘shed a light’ on the 47 deaths that occurred at Résidence Herron

The head of Montreal’s public health department defended her response last year to a mounting crisis at a long-term care home during the first wave of COVID-19, telling a coroner’s inquest on Tuesday she hadn’t realized the owners weren’t fully co-operating with local health authorities.

Dr. Mylène Drouin testified Tuesday that she became aware on April 7, 2020, that the owners of Résidence Herron in the Montreal suburb of Dorval still hadn’t turned over residents’ medical files to local authorities who had stepped in to help manage the home due to staff shortages.

“Then I understood the issues wasn’t only managing the outbreak, but also much more with human resources, administration,” she told the inquiry.

Drouin said she was first made aware of the situation unfolding at Herron on April 3, when she received an email stating the local health authority had taken over the facility west of Montreal several days earlier due to a lack of personnel.

She said her office began investigating to ensure the proper infection control measures had been put in place but said she initially was led to believe that the situation was under control and the residents’ needs were being met.

Drouin said she issued an official directive on April 7 after learning the extent of the issues at the home. That order directed the local health authority to mobilize all necessary resources to ensure the management of the facility amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are therefore of the opinion that there is a real threat to the health of the residents of the private CHSLD Herron and there is an urgency to put in place the necessary measures to remedy this situation,” it read.

Forty-seven people died at Herron, and a report commissioned by the provincial government accused the owners of “organizational negligence” that resulted in a failure to meet residents’ needs as the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020.

Earlier Tuesday, a Montreal police officer testified that a call was placed to police on April 11 to report an “abnormal number of deaths” at the facility that were allegedly linked to negligence.

Andréanne Laplante testified that police officers launched an investigation that included gathering material evidence such as computers and security video and also interviewing about 50 witnesses. Laplante said that, unusually, most of the interviews were done by phone due to the number of people associated with the home who had been infected or exposed to COVID-19.

In her opening remarks, coroner Géhane Kamel said it is not her job to determine criminal or civil responsibility but rather to “shed a light” on the 47 deaths that occurred at Résidence Herron.

“The loss of a human life, when it’s understood the death could have been prevented, remains a tragedy for loved ones and society,” she said. “But the deplorable, shocking conditions surrounding this loss are also elements that can and must be taken into account in the current inquiry and eventual recommendations.”

Kamel is investigating pandemic deaths at seven Quebec seniors residences and long-term care homes, but the portion of the hearings addressing Herron was suspended earlier this year while prosecutors decided whether to lay charges against the former owners. The Quebec prosecutor’s office announced last month that the evidence in the case did not meet the bar for criminal charges.

The hearings into Herron will hear from dozens of witnesses and are scheduled to last until at least Sept. 19.

—The Canadian Press

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