With criminal charges ruled out, inquiry into dozens of deaths at CHSLD Herron begins

With criminal charges ruled out, inquiry into dozens of deaths at CHSLD Herron begins

Public hearings into dozens of deaths at a long-term care home in Montreal’s West Island during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave begin on Tuesday, months after being postponed due to possible criminal charges against its owners.

Coroner Géhane Kamel will spend 12 days over the next three weeks hearing testimony from a long list of witnesses with ties to CHSLD Herron, where at least 38 people died during a three-week span in the spring of 2020.

Twenty-three of those deaths occurred during a particularly dark five-day stretch.

The witnesses set to appear on Tuesday include Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal’s public health director, and Lynne McVey, president of the regional health authority for the western part of the island.

Samantha Chowieri, who is part of the Katasa Group — which owned Herron during the first wave — will be the last person to testify.

The hearings on Herron are part of a broader public inquiry into deaths in long-term care homes that occurred across Quebec at the start of the pandemic.

The public inquiry began on March 29, more than a month later than planned.

Staff in protective equipment work inside CHSLD Herron during the COVID-19 pandemic. The local health authority took control of the facility, which is now closed. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

No criminal charges against former Herron owners

The public inquiry was supposed to start in mid-February, with a look into the debacle at Herron being at the top of the agenda.

Those hearings were postponed, however.

Kamel approved a motion filed by Katasa Group to delay testimony until prosecutors could decide whether to lay criminal charges against the company’s owners.

That decision came on Aug. 26, with Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DCPC) announcing it had not found sufficient evidence to lay charges.

“This decision in no way trivializes the tragic events that occurred at CHSLD Herron, nor does it mean any fault of civic or ethical nature could not have been committed,” the the DCPC said in a statement.

At the height of the crisis at Herron, health-care workers sent to provide relief last spring described a horrific situation, with residents lacking food, water and basic care.

According to an earlier report, there were three employees caring for 133 residents, and the home was filled with a “nauseating odour of urine and feces” and unwashed dishes.

CHSLD Herron was permanently closed last November.

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