Update: Barbara Paquette’s family learned late Friday afternoon that her body has been transferred to a funeral home. Read about their ordeal below.
“Where is our mom? Is she in a refrigerated truck? A crematorium?” Wendy Paquette says not knowing the answer is preventing her from sleeping.
A full week after her mother, Barbara Paquette, died of COVID-19 at the long-term care facility at Montreal’s LaSalle Hospital, Paquette’s family still has no idea where her body is.
“It’s nightmarish. I can’t get the vision of the truck out of my head.”
The LaSalle Hospital residence is one of the CHSLDs — the acronym by which long-term care homes are known in Quebec — listed as being in a critical situation, with more than 50 per cent of its residents having tested positive for COVID-19.
As of April 16, 66 residents in the 115-bed facility have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 15 others have died.
Guillaume Berube, a spokesperson for the health agency for the region, CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Ile-de-Montreal, confirmed refrigerated trucks have been installed outside the LaSalle, Douglas and Lakeshore hospitals.
“If there’s a lack of space in the morgue, the refrigerated truck is an extension of the morgue outside the hospital,” he said.
He would not confirm whether the trucks are being used to store bodies now.
At Friday’s daily provincial briefing, Health Minister Danielle McCann said the ministry would look into the Paquette’s situation.
“What we have stressed from the beginning is the importance of communication with the families, especially to know where their loved ones are,” she said. “We need to provide support — moral support — to the families who are going through what they are going through.”
No chance to say goodbye
Barbara Paquette had been a resident of the LaSalle Hospital residence since 2018. She had Alzheimer’s and needed round-the-clock care.
Wendy Paquette said that other than her mother’s cognitive decline, the 84-year-old was in great physical health, with no other underlying conditions.
On March 30, staff called Paquette to let her know her mother had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We really felt that she was healthy, and she could fight it naturally,” Paquette said.
The next time staff called, however, it was to tell the family to prepare to say goodbye.
Paquette said the procedures involved in getting permission to go to her mother’s bedside were explained to her. Even with all of the personal protective equipment, staff informed Paquette that she herself had an 80 per cent chance of contracting the coronavirus.
“We said, ‘Maybe we could FaceTime,’ and again, we were discouraged against that,” Paquette said.
“It was described to us as, ‘Do you really want to see her in that state?’ And [we were] told she was not lucid.”
In the end, Paquette and her family did not see her in person or through FaceTime.
Barbara Paquette died on April 9.
In the eight days since, Paquette says the family has not heard a single word about her mother’s whereabouts.
“We are phoning and phoning and trying to get through to people, but they don’t pick up,” said Paquette.
“We need information to move forward as a family — for closure.”
Berube said the normal procedure is to inform the family immediately following a death and to ask if they have a contract with a funeral home, before the body is moved to the morgue.
Either the hospital administration or the funeral home then calls the family to make further arrangements.
However, Paquette said when staff called to inform them of their mother’s death, they were told Health Canada would be the one issuing the death certificate, and that the family would be contacted.
In the confusion surrounding this pandemic, it now appears the family either misunderstood or were misinformed by the person who called them.
“We don’t have a funeral home. We don’t have a death certificate. We don’t have remains!” Paquette said.
“It’s very disturbing for us to even imagine that she’s somewhere in a refrigerated truck waiting. We don’t like to think of it like that, but it can very well be the reality.”