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Fire at Quebec Seniors' Residence

Posted on Thu, January 23, 2014 at 10:03 pm

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are affected by the tragic fire at L`Isle Verte, a senior`s residence in Quebec.  At the time of this posting, 5 deaths have been confirmed.  Today I was interviewed by 5 CBC radio stations from across the country, many of which asked me the same questions, ``How can we prevent this?``, ``Did Alzheimer`s play a role in complicating the evacuation?``, and ``Could the night staff truly evacuate 50 residents?`  While I don`t have all the answers to these questions, or certainly not the answers people want to hear, these are my perspectives:

  1.  How can we prevent something like this from happening again?  All nursing homes should have an evacuation plan in place, and provinces, such as Ontario, require nursing homes to conduct a mock evacuation every three years.  Nursing homes should have contracts in place with facilities to house residents in the event that a nursing home becomes inhabitable.  Nursing homes need to have an up-to-date resident list to ensure that all residents are accounted for once the facility is evacuated. Fire drills should be conducted on a regular basis. For example, Administrators in Ontario must ensure that a fire drill is conducted every month for each shift.  All nursing homes MUST have a functional sprinkler system that covers all aspects of the building. Partial sprinkles are simply inadequate and risk the health and safety of all residents and staff.


  1. Did Alzheimer`s complicate the evacuation?   Of the stories that I have read about L`Isle-Verte , none of them mentioned that residents were agitated or displayed aggressive behaviour, but I did read that many of the residents suffered from Alzheimer`s.  Individuals with advanced Alzheimer`s can be especially vulnerable to chaotic situations and have limited understanding and comprehension, so I would presume that at least some of the residents became agitated, and understandably so.  Quickly evacuating a large number of residents is a time consuming task but having to calm down agitated and resistant residents presents further challenges and time delays.  Staff needs proper training on how to interact with residents with Alzheimer`s, and specifically how to effectively handle someone with Alzheimer`s in a crisis situation.


  1. Could the night staff realistic evacuate 50 residents? In a perfect world there would be enough staff on the night shift to safely evacuate all residents, but this is not the case.  Fact of the matter is there is only a limited amount of funding for nursing homes, and if a Nursing Home Administrator were to receive more funding for staffing, most of these resources would likely be used to increase staffing during the day or evening shifts when residents require more care.  During the night residents are sleeping, so added staff would simply sit around.  Adding a couple more night staff would make a small difference in the event of a full evacuation, but they would still find it extremely challenging to safely remove all residents from the facility.


The tragic fire at L`Isle-Verte will most certainly spark a much needed conversation and debate on current nursing home policies such as staff levels, staff to resident ratios for the night shift, and proper fire prevention strategies.  I hope that lessons learned will prevent further deaths and ultimately ensure the safety of nursing home residents. 

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