COVID-19 was repeatedly cited as a cause of death at the Herron nursing home to obscure the fact that dozens of elderly residents died from thirst, malnourishment and neglect, a Quebec coroner’s inquest heard Tuesday.
In an emotional testimony, an auxiliary nurse recalled how the facility in Montreal’s West Island was already poorly run before the crisis, how most of its staff abandoned their posts when the coronavirus struck, and how the local health authority then took over in a high-handed and inefficient manner.
She described discussions over whether to triage residents in such a way that those who were dying wouldn’t be fed. And she recalled harrowing scenes: a woman’s body left unattended in a room shared with her husband, and nurses quarrelling in front of grieving family members.
As I’ve been saying for months now, if you have spent any time in nursing homes, this sort of behavior would be what you’d expect. Nursing home work is often horrible and depressing, and we all should be grateful to the many decent people who are willing to do it, most at near minimum wage. Even the best of them are likely to get overwhelmed or emotionally and physically exhausted. For every sweet old lady, there’s a cursing old man who needs his diaper changed, two old people who don’t know who or where they are but still need to be fed and cleaned, a gasping unconscious woman clinging to life, some seething person who will hit you if you get close – all dying, it’s just a matter of how soon. If you smell urine and feces when you walk in the door, chances are some overworked, underpaid, disrespected person hasn’t gotten around to cleaning up a mess – for the 50th time that day.
And that’s the good ones! Such work attracts a certain kind of sociopath, the sort of people who get off on being in charge of helpless people, both the patients and the help. And, having been sociopaths all their lives, they are good at hiding it from us civilians.
Now add an unprecedented level of terror: minimum wage workers thinking that they’re going to catch the Kung Flu and die if they care for the sickly elderly in the appallingly intimate way their job demands. Then remove all oversight – no visitors! And then imagine unleashing the sociopaths, who most often are in charge. Give them an easy out: anyone who dies can be said to have died of COVID! Who is going to challenge that? Who is even there to challenge that?
Even in the best nursing homes, staffed by the best people with the best intentions, the added stress of the panic-mongers is going to make life very, very hard on both the patients and the staff. Grannies are going to die – sooner, I mean, they are all in there to die – from loneliness and despair once the visits for which they stay alive are removed; caregivers, despite their best intentions, are now worried, hurried, and stressed out. Administrators are overwhelmed. And COVID can be a nasty bug, one that can sometimes kill a sickly old person and, indeed, an overwhelmed, overworked staff member!
Best case, the panic and lockups have sped the deaths of thousands and possibly killed some of the overwhelmed staff; worst case, thousands and thousands of deaths were attributed to COVID, but caused by neglect and casual indifference. The bad news: in most cases, the actual cause would be hard to figure out, since the people involved were almost all already dying. Worse news; because the people involved were already dying, many people won’t care they died a little sooner. Worst news: nobody is going to be allowed to investigate this on any larger scale, or, if somehow such an investigation were to take place, it is not going to be allowed to become widely known.
Remember: at least half, and possibly up to 2/3rds of all COVID deaths are among nursing home patients. Even without COVID, around 2/3rds of all deaths in America happen among the sickly elderly – the exact sort of people who are likely to be in a nursing home in the first place.