Quebec forms crisis task force to examine province’s emergency room backlogs

The Government of Quebec has formed a crisis team to combat long wait times in emergency rooms across the province, without adding additional resources.

The vast majority of Quebec hospitals are largely operating at overcapacity. As of Thursday morning, the Royal Victoria Hospital had 58 patients admitted, despite only having a capacity of 33, for example.

At least 29 of those people had been on a stretcher for more than 24 hours – for 15 of them it had been 48 hours or more.

Health Minister Christian Dubé, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, said he was « confident » the government can find solutions, despite staff shortages.

Dubé said there were administrative reasons for the delays that could be improved. The crisis team will include local emergency directors, who can make recommendations.

« We are overwhelmed »

The minister said he is committed to achieving his goal of seeing all Quebecers within an hour and a half of arriving at the emergency room.

Recent cases, including that of a man who died after waiting 16 hours in the emergency room, are « not acceptable », he said.

Dr Judy Morris, president of the Association of Emergency Physicians of Quebec and a practicing emergency physician, said urgent care services have been stretched to their limits.

« This is where we are. We are in a crisis situation, we are overwhelmed and not just one hospital, many hospitals across the region, » she said.

« Extraordinary measures must be taken now for patient safety. »

Morris said they would accept any help offered to them – but said the system needed to « have our staff, keep our staff and bring back staff » to really fix the problem.

“We need to be staffed enough to be able to open beds, provide adequate service to patients, provide enough services for home care,” she said. “And there is the whole question of primary care which must also be there for the population.”

But Sonia Bélanger, the minister responsible for seniors’ health, acknowledged that “there will be no more nurses” to look into the problem.

“Right now our health care system is fragile,” she said Wednesday, but acknowledged that more work needed to be done “before and after emergencies.”

New system not yet popular

Dubé said a new primary care access system, known by its French acronym the GAP, is not yet well known and is rarely used. The GAP allows those who don’t have a family doctor to call or go online to be triaged to non-emergency care centers, in an effort to relieve emergency room congestion.

According to Radio-Canada, the waiting time on the phone is about 15 minutes — except in Montreal, where it takes an average of more than two hours.

Dubé said a new phone number, exclusive for the greater Montreal area, should be launched in mid-November.

The crisis cell should meet in the coming days.


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