A Quebec nurse testified Wednesday that the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care facility administered morphine to elderly residents rather than attempt to prolong the lives of those with suspected COVID-19.
“They didn’t all die but most did,” said Sylvie Morin, the former assistant chief nurse at Sainte-Dorothée, a long-term care facility where over 100 residents perished during the pandemic's first wave in 2020.
The Globe and Mail report that officials made it harder to treat residents and to send them to the hospital, according to a coroner’s inquest.
Staff put residents on the "respiratory-distress protocol" to ease breathing troubles that unintentionally put them to death. Morin clarified that the protocol is not what kills the person but makes them more comfortable.
"But with COVID, it was going so fast, I had never seen deaths happen so quickly," she said: "The person had symptoms, we tested, and we got the results 24-48 hours later. A day later, they were dead. It wasn’t long.”
Resident Anna José Maquet, a 94-year-old, died suddenly at the facility last year and was "feeling fine" on the evening of April 2, according to her children. On April 3, staff put her on morphine after choking on a beverage and upchucking medication earlier that day. She later died in the evening.
There is no evidence Maquet ever contracted COVID-19.
Morin also testified that her floor supervisors were expecting and readying for many deaths among residents. In early March, she said her unit leader had 250 death certificates and 250 forms for the respiratory-distress protocol. "I looked at it, and I said, ‘come now, they’re not all going to die.’ But it was all set up ahead of time.”
A document filed at the inquest indicated the provincial Health Department sought to discharge or send 80 percent of hospital patients to long-term care facilities who didn’t require acute care.
Similarly, families of long-term care residents were advised to revise their loved one's level of care. “Should move towards C and D levels,” said a health-board planning document filed at the inquest. Unlike care levels A and B, where patients receive medical attention to prolong life, at C and D levels, the priority is dispensing comfort care to relieve pain as a person approaches death.
A federal report indicates that the vast majority of COVID-19 related deaths in Canada were over 85 and had multiple comorbidities.
The "Briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 On Seniors" report found that over 50 percent of those who died were over 85, with many suffering from chronic heart disease, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Canadians over 65 accounted for 94 percent of pandemic deaths.
More than 4,000 Quebec seniors died in long-term care facilities during the first wave.