Many Quebec ERs stretched to capacity even as COVID numbers shrink

After a brutal year in which Quebec's hospitals were pushed to their limits by the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer was supposed to be a time to rest and recuperate for exhausted staffs. But during what is normally a slow time of year, the province's emergency rooms have seen an influx of patients.

As of Tuesday, the Royal Victoria Hospital's ER was at 170 per cent capacity, while Maisonneuve-Rosemont was at 148 per cent, Sacre-Coeur was at 128 per cent and the CHUM was at 114 per cent.

“It's pretty frightening. I don't know how we're going to be able to get back to a reasonable number,” said patients rights advocate Paul Brunet.

The influx of patients isn't restricted to Montreal, with some ERs elsewhere also nearing double capacity.

“Hospitals as a whole have been suffering in the last year,” said Quebec Association of Emergency Physicians president Judy Morris.

Morris, who works in the Sacre-Coeur ER, said hospitals are short-staffed and are still operating at reduced capacity from the pandemic. But she said many of the people currently flooding into emergency rooms are coming with minor ailments or issues that should have been caught much sooner because they can't access a primary care physician.

“We see patients that waited way too long to consult and now they finally feel comfortable coming out,” she said. “We find some catastrophes, cancers and other things from people that have delayed consulting.”

Brunet said the switch to tele-medecine during the pandemic is partially to blame.

“Phone or video is an exception, but in fact, it became the general rule,” he said.

While Morris suggested people with ailments should call 811 if they don't know where to go, she urged Quebecers not to be afraid to go to hospital in an emergency.

“We're there to treat patients, we're there to take care of what needs to be taken care of,” she said.  

With reporting from CTV Montreal's Angela Mackenzie