Health

Physicians warn Quebec’s ERs are over capacity as respiratory viruses increase

Physicians are warning that a surge in respiratory viruses is starting to clog up Quebec’s emergency rooms and many of them are well above capacity.

According to Amélie Boisclair, an intensive care internist at Pierre-Le Gardeur Hospital, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19 are the main viruses currently circulating.

“It’s no secret that emergency departments have been overflowing for some time now,” she said.

“But now, we’re really in the middle of the respiratory virus season, and you can see that people are coming in one after the other. Sometimes they’re in such bad shape that they need intensive care.”

Matthew Oughton, an attending physician in the Jewish General Hospital’s infectious diseases division, said it’s normal to see an increase in influenza at the end of November and early December.

“Interestingly, Quebec, for whatever reason, we’re one of the last areas of the country to be seeing influenza-A,” he said. “That said, we’re really barrelling into it.”

He also says COVID-19 cases are higher than they have been in the last 10 months.

Judy Morris, head of the Quebec Association of Emergency Physicians, said crowded ERs are mostly the result of an overburdened health-care system.

“When you look at the numbers that we see, they’re not that high compared to other years or other peaks. But the baseline capacity is not good. ERs are the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

“Something has to be done so that the care of patients is adequate in the province.”

High occupancy rates

In Lanaudière, the average ER occupancy rate was 167 per cent on Saturday evening, according to Index Santé. In the Laurentians, the average was 134 per cent, whilein the Montérégie, it was 129 per cent.

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The health minister’s office said in a statement that the government is “trying to take pressure off our emergency rooms” by giving people who don’t require immediate care other options, like calling 811.

It blamed public sector strikes for the worsening situation in emergency departments.

“These services operate at reduced capacity on strike days, which increases the pressure,” the minister’s office said in a statement.

“We are aware that the situation is far from ideal, we are monitoring it very closely and we will be taking stock of the situation in the next few days.”

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