Shelter worker 'prayed for the best' as she helped save a life

Nancy Morisseau will be recognized for her heroism and says she shares the honour she will receive with Montreal police.

Allison Hanes, Montreal Gazette 4 minute read June 7, 2021

Nancy Morisseau will be honoured for her actions in saving an overdose victim. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Nancy Morisseau wasn’t supposed to be working the morning she saved the life of a young woman from an opioid overdose at the temporary homeless shelter operating out of Hôtel Place Dupuis.

And she will tell you that any one of her colleagues would have done exactly the same thing in her place.

So when Morisseau is honoured for her heroism by the Service de police de la ville de Montréal on Monday, she said she will be sharing the recognition with her team, who have been working overnight and early morning shifts all winter to keep the homeless off the streets and safe from COVID-19.

“I see them as superheroes,” said Morisseau, supervisor at the Welcome Hall Mission, which runs the emergency refuge in addition to multiple other shelters and services. “I was able to be in their shoes and the honour is really for the whole team, for the whole project, the whole mission, because we’ve been at the hotel since November and we’ve had a few incidents like this one. And it was the guys and girls that were working their night shifts who had to deal with these situations. It just happened this time that it was me.”

On May 5, Morisseau was filling in to help with the early morning routine.

“We have to make sure that everybody wakes up and leaves with their belongings and grabs a coffee and goes out safely to another resource. And the agents that work on the different floors of the hotel, they have to knock and make sure that everybody is awake and remind them that you have an hour, you have 30 minutes, you have 15 minutes to leave. Sometimes when we don’t get an answer when we knock on the door, we have to go in and make sure the person is OK.”

Morisseau was stepping off the elevator with another colleague when an agent entered a room and found a young woman unconscious.

“We saw her on the floor. She wasn’t responding and then we looked around and saw that she was in cardiac arrest. So the person that was with me called 911,” she said. “But I knew looking around that she would need a naloxone shot, so I was able to give her that and then followed the 911 instructions and gave her cardiac massage.”

It was the first time Morisseau had used either type of life-saving training.

“It was a lot of stress. It was the longest minutes of my life, if you want the truth,” she said. “The lady was really in bad shape. … We were talking to her the whole time and saying her name. And just hoping for the best and praying for the best. That’s what was going on in my head at the time.”

The naloxone helped the woman start breathing again while Morisseau pumped her chest. By the time police and paramedics arrived to take her to a hospital, she had started to regain consciousness.

“The most important thing is that the young girl is alive and well today,” Morisseau said.

Samuel Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission, said he was not surprised to learn Morisseau had sprung into action.

“She’s somebody who is able to both supervise people and lead them and inspire them as well as, when an incident like this happens, she drops down and gets right involved. She’s got that nice touch with vulnerable people as well being able to see the big picture,” he said. “I’ve described her as a jewel. We have so many people like that. She’s not the only one at the Mission. And she’d probably be the first to tell you that. Because I know how humble she is.”

Watts said the entire team at Welcome Hall Mission has been working tirelessly during the pandemic. The Hôtel Place Dupuis is a project taken on in addition to the mission’s regular programs running food banks and trying to get the homeless off the streets for good. An average of 330 people per night have taken refuge at the hotel; 2,116 individual visitors have logged 55,000 stays. Yet there have been fewer than 15 COVID-19 cases, which were caught during entry-screening procedures, preventing wider outbreaks.

“They are an extremely energetic group. That’s what has impressed me from Day 1,” said Watts. “They’re serving some of the most vulnerable people in the most precarious of situations, putting themselves at considerable risk on the front lines. This is a group of people that is effectively delivering urban health care to the vulnerable. And I think that’s worth underlining.”

ahanes@postmedia.com

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