'Not a time when Quebec can afford to lose young doctors,' province's opposition leader says of ER doctor couple leaving

The leader of Quebec’s Liberal Party paused her vacation briefly on Wednesday to react to the news that two young emergency room doctors have quit their jobs in their hometown of Montreal to work in Toronto.

The married couple blames rough working conditions and concerns over Bill 96 for the "difficult" decision.

"This is not a time when Quebec can afford to lose young doctors," wrote Dominique Anglade in a statement.

The couple's story shows, Anglade continued, that Legault’s "divisive policies are having a negative effect on health care in a number of ways," and that "waiting time in our emergencies is going up every year, and our health-care workers are overwhelmed because of the labour shortage."

A spokesperson for Premier Francois Legault told CTV News that he would not comment on the story.

On Tuesday, CTV News reported that married specialists Dr. Daria Denissova and Dr. Philip Stasiak grappled with the decision to pack up and start a life elsewhere, especially since they’d waited years for the chance to practice in Montreal, they said.

"Emotionally, financially –the move here and now the move back, and now we’re moving with two kids – it’s just complicated, it’s tough, it’s disappointing," said Stasiak.

After completing their residencies at McGill University, the pair took positions in Toronto when there were no ER slots open in Montreal due to government hiring limitations, they said.

After the birth of their first child, they returned home to work at the Jewish General Hospital.

But Quebec's new French-language law, adopted in May, created several serious concerns for the trilingual pair, and they said it helped cement their decision to leave Montreal again - this time for good.

They said it’s not clear yet how the law will be enforced in their hospital and questioned whether they’d be allowed to communicate with patients in the language of their choice.

In an emailed response, health ministry spokesperson Marie-Claude Lacasse wrote that, "all English-speaking persons have the right to receive health and social services in the English language, taking into account the organization and the human, material and financial resources of the institutions providing these services."

Legal experts, though, have noted the government hasn’t ever defined who exactly is an "English speaker," so it’s difficult to figure out who falls under this provision, laid out in the Act respecting health services and social services.

The couple also has personal concerns when it comes to Bill 96, including freedom for their children to be educated in the language they choose.

STRESSFUL WORKLOAD BY NUMBERS

The other important reason why the couple is leaving Montreal is the intense workload compared to what they experienced when they worked in Toronto previously.

They say Montreal ERs are "chronically understaffed" and "stressed," and describe having too many shifts and an inflexible schedule that doesn’t allow them to care for their children.

The couple fault the limited number of PREMs/PEMs (Plan régional d'effectifs médicaux) the government hands out to Montreal in particular, each one representing a permit to practice.

"We would for sure welcome and benefit from more physicians, another 'X' number of physicians into our department, but we can't," said Denissova.

Lacasse contended that Montreal does get its share of PREM positions, referring to permits designated for family doctors required to work some shifts in emergency rooms.

Having more GPs would also help ERs by reducing the number of people going to hospitals for help they can better provide, experts say.

"In 2022, Montreal has obtained 115 PREM positions (85 for new billers and 30 for physicians already in practice)," Lacasse wrote.

That number sounds good until you break it down, says family doctor Mark Roper, who recently took the health ministry to court asking them to suspend the PREM system and make the distribution of doctors more equitable across the province.

"The MSSS’s [health ministry’s] own data shows 71 doctors are retiring in Montreal and 13 family doctors will leave for other regions, which is a loss of 84," Roper explained.

So that's only a "net gain of 31 for the region," said Roper - a big drop from the 85 new physicians Montreal is supposed to be getting on paper, and not enough, he said, to make a marked difference when it comes to working conditions and patient care.

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