All CHSLDs in Quebec must be fully public

Quebec’s privately owned old age homes are exploitative and ineffective

Graphic by Gabriela Vasquez-Rondon

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic a crisis of death deeply impacted the CHSLD system in Quebec, particularly privately run ones. 

The Coalition Avenir Québec government must make substantive policy based changes to the system of elderly care in Quebec. A key change that must happen is removing the for profit aspects from the system, this can help prevent deadly situations from occurring in the future.

Last spring, Premier François Legault made some political gestures in response to the crisis, indicating the need for serious reform in the CHSLD system. At the time Legault stated, "these are living environments, but they are also care environments—just as important as hospitals.”

Many privately run CHSLDs, like Résidence CHSLD Herron in Dorval, ostensibly operating as the “care environments” that Legault described, deeply failed.

Institutions like the Katasa Development Group still own CHSLD Herron and six other seniors' residences in Quebec, and have faced little accountability for the deadly mishandeling of the pandemic. 

According to statistics compiled by the Montreal Economic Institute, around 75 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Quebec occurred in CHSLDs, particularly in private institutions. Action must be taken. 

Legault acknowledged the general health crisis, particularly privately run ones, but stopped short of calling for all CHSLDs to become part of the public system.

In March, a Quebec government sponsored report that looked into the crisis of deaths that plagued the CHSLD system was released. The report outlines the major shortages of nursing staff during the pandemic, and this prevented many from “dying with respect and dignity.”

The report stops short of calling for an end to private CHSLDs, but does point out how proportionately more deaths occurred within private centres, like the CHSLD Herron. Although the report addresses the tragedies surrounding privately run CHSLDs, the report’s text does not call for the legal accountability and action that families are calling for.

A totally public CHSLD system would ensure greater democratic oversight and remove the cost cutting, profit driven policies that propelled the pandemic for Quebec’s older population.

It is essential to continue to push for the eradication of privately run CHSLDs in Quebec. A totally public CHSLD system would ensure greater democratic oversight and remove the cost cutting, profit driven policies that propelled the pandemic for Quebec’s older population.

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking on Global News, outlined the need to take the profit out of care homes. As of today, privately run CHSLDs in Quebec are able to access public funding while turning a profit.

This situation indicates that the CAQ government, along with the Parti Québécois and Liberal governments before, created space for corporate profit within the public healthcare system, by allowing for more privately run CHSLDs. This means frontline workers, cleaning staff, administrative staff, and cooks are underpaid, often getting paid minimum wage after agencies remove fees.

CHSLDs often rely on the labour of people with precarious status who are struggling to find access to work.

In the context of writing this article, I have spoken with activists involved with both the Immigrant Workers Centre and Solidarity Across Borders about non-status workers within the CHSLD system.  They have confirmed the ways that being non-status leads to invisibility for many workers. This leads workers into a situation where they need to work two or three jobs in order to survive, because the wages are so low.

This was definitely the case for Mamadou Konté, an asylum seeker from Ivory Coast who worked at the peak of the pandemic in a private CHSLD, and contracted COVID-19. Konté’s case illustrates the danger all workers face in the CHSLD system in this pandemic, including Konté who today faces deportation from Canada. This injustice illustrates the exploitative nature of privately run CHSLDs.

The structural injustices surrounding privately run elderly care homes in Quebec place CHSLD residents, staff, and society in danger, as illustrated within the context of COVID-19. The CAQ is not blind to this reality of exploitation within private CHSLDs, but continues to maintain a system that has been proven to be deadly.