As military pulls back, Red Cross plans to deploy 900 workers to long-term care homes

The Canadian Red Cross will deploy roughly 900 people to assist residents in long-term care homes in Quebec by the end of July, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced today.

The Canadian Armed Forces members who have been assisting the province as it grapples with severe COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities are preparing to pull out — despite repeated calls from Quebec Premier François Legault to keep them there until September.

“While the crisis has abated, help is still needed to ensure people living in these homes remain safe,” Blair said.

He said the Red Cross workers will be in place until the fall; by that point, Quebec is expected to have recruited more of its own employees to work in these homes.

Legault has said the province wants to hire at least 10,000 people to provide long-term care.

Blair said the Red Cross workers will be paid, in part, from the $100 million the federal government gave the organization last month.

House Leader Pablo Rodriquez said the military will be on hand until these homes can be safely transitioned to Red Cross-led teams of workers. “We’re not going to leave anybody behind,” he said.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, said the troops were on hand for the “crisis protection phase” of the pandemic and it’s time for civilians to take over. He said that, in some cases, the soldiers are leaving these long-term homes in better states than they were in before the pandemic hit.

“The killing crisis is abating so it’s time for us to get back to the business at hand,” Vance said, adding some of the soldiers deployed to long-term care homes haven’t seen their families since April.

More than 3,730 people have died of COVID-19 in Quebec’s care homes.

Conrad Sauvé, president and CEO of the Red Cross, said some people have been trained already and they’re expected to staff Montreal-area homes starting July 6.

He said his organization is looking for hundreds more people to work in these homes. He said all of the positions will be paid — past medical experience is not required — and would-be workers must commit to at least a month of employment.

While the troops are ready to leave, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said teams of soldiers will be on hand to re-deploy if there are further spikes in infections. Ten military teams of seven will be ready to step in if there’s an emergency.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the work of the soldiers, who have been working in 47 Quebec care homes.

“Overall, the situation in the CHSLDs has greatly improved,” Trudeau told reporters Friday, using the French acronym for long-term care homes. “The needs are no longer the same as they were two months ago.”