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Montreal emergency rooms overcrowded and it’s getting worse, says ER physician

“It’s just dangerous,” said president of the Quebec Association of Emergency Physicians Dr. Judy Morris about Montreal area hospitals experiencing alarming overcrowding in its emergency rooms.

Montreal emergency rooms are overcrowded and it’s only going to get worse, according to one emergency care physician.

The ongoing staff shortage and poor working conditions in the entire health-care network are being blamed.

“Unfortunately the ER is often the site where we can observe the failures of the rest of the system,” said Dr. Judy Morris, president of the Quebec Association of Emergency Physicians (AMUQ).

“We’re missing personnel everywhere. So when you look at the provincial data you see that the wait times and the demands for long-term care, primary care, for rehab centres for long-term care facilities for certain types of patients, those demands and those needs are increasing and we cannot match it.”

BACKGROUND: Quebec short thousands of health workers, partially closing six ERs this summer

High emergency room occupancy rates across Montreal are causing many ERs to operate at nearly 150 per cent. On Sunday, the Royal Victoria Hospital was at 152 per cent, Montreal General at 132 per cent and the Jewish General Hospital at 130 per cent.

Morris is recommending to avoid visiting the ER if it isn’t an emergency, to instead call 811.

“When you’re overcrowded on a chronic basis, you just become overloaded and you cannot give the care patients deserve,” she said. “Some of them end up leaving. We see patients leaving without being seen increasing because they get fed up. But maybe they need to be assessed and seen by a doctor.

“And what we’ve been seeing also is when you’re overcrowded on a regular basis, it’s dangerous for patients because patient care is altered. Imagine you have to take care of twice the number of patients that you normally do, well you’re bound to make some mistakes, you’re bound to forget a few things, you’re bound not to take enough time with each patient because you won’t have enough time to talk to them.”


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According to Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services, there were about 59,600 employees absent from the health network as of last month – 10 per cent more than at the same time last year.

“The past two years we’ve seen people leave because of being overworked, because of all the stress related to the environment, people leaving for retirement early, and because of the work conditions are not optimal,” said Morris. “So we need to re-establish that, get better work conditions.”

With COVID-19 still rampant in Quebec, doctors worry the increase in cases in the past few weeks will lead to more people coming to the ER.

Morris says getting the third and fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is still one of the most important ways to prevent severe infection, and clearing up space in hospitals for those who need it.

“We’re hoping that there’s not going to be a lot of hospitalizations required because quite frankly the system just doesn’t have the capacity to handle them, because otherwise we’re going to have to cut elsewhere in order to take those hospitalizations,” said Morris.

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