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Quebec seniors home staff locks down with residents for second time during pandemic

MONTREAL — Staff at a retirement home east of Montreal are living with their elderly residents to prevent them from being confined to their rooms during Quebec's COVID-19 lockdown.

MONTREAL — Staff at a retirement home east of Montreal are living with their elderly residents to prevent them from being confined to their rooms during Quebec's COVID-19 lockdown.

It's the second time since the beginning of the pandemic that employees at Manoir Stanstead have locked down with residents.

Since Jan. 9, Quebecers have been under tight restrictions that include a nightly provincewide curfew and the closure of all non-essential businesses. Dining rooms at all long-term care homes and private seniors residences are also closed.

For Donna Rolfe, closing the dining area and keeping residents locked in their rooms at her facility is unacceptable. Instead, to ensure residents aren't isolated, she and her colleagues decided to shut themselves in the private care home located about 160 kilometres east of Montreal.

"They would have had to stay in their room, and we just don't think that's human to just stay in four walls," Rolfe, assistant director at the residence, said in a recent interview. "By locking in, we're still respecting the mask and the six feet, but at least they can come in the dining room to eat two at a table, six feet apart, and still have a little bit of communication with other people."

There are 52 residents living at the Eastern Townships home, the majority of whom are 90 years old or older. Private seniors residences in Quebec have been hard hit during the second wave of COVID-19, but Manoir Stanstead has not reported a single case.

Rolfe said staff have been vaccinated, but she said Quebec's plan to immunize seniors in retirement homes by Jan. 25 was delayed due to a lack of vaccines.

Everything coming into the home is carefully sanitized, she said, adding that employees who are bubbled include orderlies, a maintenance man, cleaners and kitchen staff.

Employees at the seniors home are separated from their families until Feb. 8, when the current health restrictions are scheduled to end. But those who agreed to shut in are taking it in stride.

Patricia Buzzell, the only cook in the bubble, will put in 28 days of 10-hour shifts by Feb. 8. She said staff moved in within 48 hours of being asked to lockdown for a second time.

"Everything's going great, we're all in our family, our own little bubble, we're all keeping everybody safe," Buzzell said, adding that she couldn't bear to see people she considers family to be confined to their rooms.

"I couldn't leave these people in the room 24 hours a day, it's not humane, it's not their lifestyle, they're used to coming out for their meals and visiting with the people they sit with," Buzzell said. "For some, that's the only visits they get."

The decision was an easy one for Faye Chamberlain, a patient attendant at the home. "It's a little different for me because my mother is a resident, my brother works here and my son works here part-time, so it's kind of like a family thing," Chamberlain said. Her brother handles maintenance and is among the 15 employees currently in the bubble.

While Chamberlain's mother is lucky enough to see her children, she said some residents haven't had visits in months. It's a small price to improve their day-to-day lives, she said.

"People do it all the time, you think of people in the military that go overseas," Chamberlain said. "So I think 30 days is a very, very small sacrifice to ensure their health and safety."

Rolfe's ninth grandchild was born on Thursday and her husband, a truck driver, is home on his own. "He's keeping busy at work … but he knows I've got to do what I've got to do, he's very supportive."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press