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Area emergency rooms face ‘difficult situation’

The extreme wait times and staff shortages in area hospitals have been headline news recently, as the dire situation in local emergency rooms was jarringly brought to light on October 22 when a man in his seventies died within minutes of arriving at the Barrie Memorial Hospital. He had waited 16 hours in an attempt to see a doctor in another hospital the day before.

Dr. Sebastien Marin, an emergency room physician at the Barrie Memorial Hospital, recounted the tragic incident in a series of posts to Twitter. “I ended my night on a patient who passed away in front of me with a ruptured thoracic aorta,” he wrote, explaining there was nothing he could have done to save the man. In an interview with Radio-Canada the following day, Marin said the case had “fallen through the cracks of the system,” before noting the outcome could have been different had the man been treated sooner. “I see patients dying every day. That’s life, but he shouldn’t have died,” he added.

A few days earlier, a physician working at the Anna Laberge Hospital also took to social media to denounce the “untenable and dangerous” situation in the emergency room at the Chateauguay-based hospital. Staff at the Suroît Hospital in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield were recently forced to turn away less urgent cases and divert ambulances to another hospital, effectively closing the ER temporarily, due to a lack of personnel. As of last week, only five of the 17 nursing positions needed to cover the evening shift had been filled.

An article in La Presse on October 24 included a quote from Mélanie Gignac, the president of the Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de la Montérégie-Ouest (FIQ-SPSMO), accusing the CISSSMO of “organizational slavery.” A photograph accompanying the article showed the hands of a dozen nurses wearing hospital bracelets with the number of TSO or mandatory overtime shifts they had worked in the last week in the Suroît Hospital emergency room. At least half of the nurses were on their third shift, while one was on her fourth and another on her fifth.

“The situation in our emergency rooms is difficult,” acknowledges Catherine Brousseau, an information officer with the Montérégie-West Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO). “We are experiencing high traffic and a shortage of staff,” she explains, while pointing out that the staff, physicians, and managers are all working extremely hard to ensure they continue to provide quality care.

“For this reason, our teams and management are currently looking at different ways to be more attractive,” she says, noting several new measures will be put in place over the coming months which they hope will help with recruitment and retention. These measures include the implementation of self-scheduling practices for staff, and relieving managers from certain administrative tasks so they can work more closely with their teams in the field. Brousseau says these initiatives are in addition to those that have already been put in place, including the introduction of non-standard or flexible schedules for staff.

Brousseau says that currently, it is especially important that people avoid going to area emergency rooms unless they need immediate care.

As of press time, the occupancy rates at all three area emergency rooms were above 100 per cent. The Suroît Hospital was at 172 per cent where 55 individuals were waiting on stretchers while the hospital’s capacity is 32. The Anna Laberge emergency room was at 156 per cent with 50 patients on stretchers with a capacity of 32, and the Barrie Memorial Hospital was at 100 per cent with 5 patients on stretchers.

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