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Montreal-area emergency rooms struggling at over capacity levels

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Emergency rooms across Montreal were overcrowded throughout the heights of the pandemic, and after three years doctors say the ailing health-care system is not improving.

In fact, it's getting worse.

"We have to build back capacity," said health care advocate Dr. Paul Saba. "There is no capacity in the system. In fact, we've reduced it so there's less than."

Almost every ER in Montreal is overcrowded.

As of Tuesday morning, the Royal Victoria Hospital was at more than double capacity (230 per cent), and Verdun and LaSalle hospitals were at around 165 per cent.

The levels are extra concerning as concerns about rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and the upcoming flu season.

"This kind of unit is pushed to the limit, [and], of course, you're going to have mistakes, you're going to have chaos," said patients rights advocate Paul Brunet.

Health experts say the prolonged pressure from COVID-19 surgery backlogs and staffing shortages are taking their toll.

As of Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said there were 3,865 health-care workers absent for COVID-19-related reasons across the province.

In addition, many people in the ER are also waiting for space to free up in long-term care.

Saba, a family physician and board of physicians president at Lachine Hospital, said the lack of family doctors is also adding pressure.

"If you have a family doctor, he's more likely to pick up on a cancer diagnosis. He's able to treat you more aggressively and follow you up," he said. "All the studies show when you have more family doctors who save lives, you save money, too."

During the election campaign, the Premier François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party pledged $400 million to recruit more than 5,000 health-care workers, but backed away from a promise that every Quebecer would get a family doctor.

Brunet said that another problem is many seniors in the ER don't need to be there.

"Between 15 and 25 per cent of patients who are elderly could have been treated at home by doctors going to home for home service; imagine the numbers of beds we're freeing for real emergencies," he said.

Until that happens, Brunet said the system will keep playing catch up. 

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