MONTREAL -- To ease the strain on Montreal’s two overcrowded pediatric emergency rooms, families can now call one phone number to make a doctor appointment for a child who is ill, but who doesn’t require emergency care.

Once contact is made, families will be directed to one of several new designated pediatric clinics in the Montreal area, according to their postal code.

The clinics, organized by the Department of regional general medicine of Montreal (DRGM), are meant to be a third resort.

Officials say parents should call their pediatrician or family physician first, or try to get an appointment at one of 350 family medicine groups on the island of Montreal.

But if they can’t get through, they can call: 514-890-6111 to get an appointment for children aged 0-16. The new service is being billed as ‘one call, one appointment.’

The line will be operational from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

It’s hoped the handy, single phone number and service will help support a health-care network that is stretched thin.

“We have to reserve ER consultations for really, really life-threatening situations or really urgent care,” Dr. Francois Loubert, the Chief of the DRGM told CTV News in an interview.

Reaching out to book your own doctor for a visit for non-emergencies for a child or calling the new phone line for help will also save parents long and unnecessary waits at a hospital.

WHO WANTS TO WAIT IN AN ER?

On Monday, Camille Peters was visiting the Montreal Children’s Hospital ER for the second time in just a few days.

Her children are back at school and caught a serious bug, she said. Last time she waited at the emergency room for seven hours and was expecting another long haul.

“It’s really bad, a lot of kids are really sick. There’s nothing much you can do but wait,” Peters said.

And waiting times have shot up – sometimes parents are stuck in the waiting room with a sniffly, feverish child for as long as 24 hours.

That’s because there’s been a sharp increase in the number of usual viruses and respiratory infections that were largely suppressed during previous waves of COVID-19.

“Kids, because of COVID-19, were out of daycare for many months, maybe a year or more, so now they’re getting exposed to all of these viruses,” said Dr. Lydia Diliddo, a pediatric emergency room specialist at Ste-Justine Hospital.

But that has also led to a very large number of children with more mild presentations, according to Dr. Robert Barnes, Associate director of professional services at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

“It’s when those children come to the emergency room by the hundreds per day that it dilutes our ability to care for the children who are truly sick and critically ill and need our hospital,” said Barnes.

“Parents are stressed out, kids are stressed, nurses are stressed … everyone is tired,” Diliddo said.

The Montreal pediatric phone line aims to “seamlessly match the parent of an ailing child to a pediatric appointment within a few hours,” according to the press release.