Naval reservist recalls Op LASER deployment

OS Eloise Savoie deployed to a long-term care facility in Quebec earlier this spring as part of Operation LASER, the CAF response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naval reservist recalls rewarding Op LASER deployment in Quebec

By Peter Mallett,
The Lookout Staff

A naval reservist who returned in June from her work at a long-term care home in Quebec has one small request of Canadians: Wear a mask and follow the guidelines of health experts.

“It’s vitally important that all people in all parts of the country follow the rules because it will save countless lives as this global pandemic unfolds,” says OS Eloise Lavoie, a registered nurse. “Even if you live in a region of the country with a low number of reported cases, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing is not that hard to do and is the easiest way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The 22 year old is a member of Montreal-based reserve unit HMCS Donnacona. She was one of approximately 1,500 military members deployed to 54 long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario in April, May, and June as part of Operation Laser.

OS Lavoie and other members from Donnacona were deployed to a seniors residence in Manoir Verdun, a suburban neighbourhood of Montreal, in April. Before their arrival, many residents at the nursing home had become infected with COVID-19, with eight dying from it.   

Military members were tasked by the government to help as approximately 1,200 staff at long term care facilities in Quebec had not shown up to work due to illness, as a precaution, or out of fear of being infected.

“Many residents in the Verdun nursing home simply couldn’t get their regular daily care and

were left on their own for hours at a time because they were so short of staff,” said OS Lavoie.

When the request came from her unit for volunteers she was one of the first to step forward.

“I called my supervisor and said I want to do this. I thought to myself, I am young, healthy, and have the nursing skills that I could put into helping people who need our assistance immediately.”

She spent most of her time working on a quarantined floor of the nursing home designated for approximately 20 people who had tested positive for COVID-19. Her role was categorized as non-medical but the duties she performed were essential to the patients.

She helped residents in every facet of their daily routine, from getting in and out of their bed; getting to the bathroom, bathing, getting dressed, eating and exercising. An added hurdle was many of the residents she cared for were Dementia patients.

She worked eight hour shifts from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., with few days off. She was housed in a nearby hotel with other members of her unit.

Since they could not attend restaurants because they were self-isolating, a catering company provided their daily meals. The support was greatly appreciated, she said.

OS Lavoie says sometimes the personal protection equipment they wore irked many residents. Every day she donned a surgical mask, face shield, protective yellow medical gown covering their entire body, and gloves.

“It was hard for many of the residents to completely grasp or understand what was going on and they were a little bit anxious when they saw someone arrive in their room with all that gear.”

In an effort to put them at ease, she, the other nurses, and other military members wrote their names on their protective shields which immediately reduced the level of anxiety, she says.

“We were able to speak to them and they could also see the expression in our eyes which was very important because happiness and other emotions can be conveyed through the eyes.”

After returning home last month and reflecting on her experience, she says the big payoff was being able to help make a desperate situation better.   

“To be able to help these people, to make them smile, to ease their concerns, to let them know things were going to be okay, and knowing that they trusted you and looked forward to seeing you was the greatest reward I could have had.”

Three weeks ago in Montreal, OS Lavoie was rewarded for her work at Manoir Verdun by the Montreal Battalion Group Task Force East 2.1. Her commendation was presented by Lt-Col Alain Cohen, Commanding Officer of the task force for her exemplary work, enthusiasm, devotion, and leadership during the operation.