Overcrowding in an emergency room on Montreal's South Shore has reached a new level as patients are being forced to wait in ambulances, sometimes for hours, because there's no room inside.

And while the ambulances wait lined up outside the Anna-Laberge Hospital, the ER calls aren't being answered either.

Patients are spending hours inside ambulances before they're seen by doctors or nurses.

"It's difficult for paramedics, first of all they want to give care to patients, not wait in the hospital of course," said Patrick Jasmin, a spokesperson for Coopérative des techniciens ambulanciers de la Montérégie (CETAM), which serves the Montérégie.

It's also difficult for hospital staff. An exhausted nurse at Anna-Laberge posted a photo on Facebook Tuesday of eight ambulances lined up at the entrance of the ER.

"There's no place to see the patient on a stretcher or to set them up before they’re seen by a doctor. Please, if you can avoid showing up at the emergency room at Anna Laberge, do it," the nurse wrote.

At one point this week, 30 per cent of the ambulances in CETAM's fleet were parked at the hospital.

Parademics can't leave until a patient is triaged so they're stuck waiting as well.

Normally, it takes 50 minutes for a patient to be admitted to hospital, but this week, paramedics have been waiting around two hours. And in one extreme case, they waited six hours before a patient was admitted.

"The emergency room was loaded, triage was slow, the patient wasn't in urgent need of care," Jasmin said.

The union representing health-care workers at the hospital is concerned and blames more admissions to the ER and fewer staff members over the summer.

In a statement, the regional health board said a worker shortage and cases of COVID-19 are slowing down their operations.

"This is an exceptional situation that we want to avoid at all costs. August 23 was a particularly difficult day," read a statement from the Monteregie West health and social services centre.

The health board said it is redirecting some patients away from the ER to other forms of care and diverting some ambulances to other facilities when possible as it works to find a more long-term solution.

"We are confident that we can improve the situation in the short term through our efforts and the commitment of our health care teams," the statement read.

The ER at Anna-Laberge is at almost double its capacity, but it's not alone. Multiple emergency rooms across the Montreal area are also over capacity.

Patient rights advocate Paul Brunet says part of the problem is that many of the patients in the emergency rooms don't need to be there.

"Twenty-five per cent of the beds in hospitals are occupied by elders who do not need acute care services, they just need to see a doctor," said Brunet, president of the Conseil pour la protection des malades (CPM).

He wants doctors to do home visits for seniors to take the pressure off patients, hospitals, and paramedics.