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Quebec to create seniors-focused mini-hospitals to relieve emergency room congestion

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Halfway between a family medicine group (GMF) and a hospital, the Quebec government on Wednesday clarified its model for private mini-hospitals that will focus on the needs of seniors.

Two mini-hospitals, which will look like specialized geriatric clinics, will be set up in the Montreal and Quebec City regions.

Health Minister Christian Dubé's office confirmed on Wednesday that the government will allocate $35 million in public funds annually for each mini-hospital. Quebec's health insurance will cover free care and services for patients.

These facilities, which the CAQ hopes to deliver by 2025, will have an emergency room but no operating room. They will be equipped to meet the needs that most often affect seniors, but if the mini-hospital is the best place for a person's needs, people of all ages could be referred there.

The mini-hospitals will be open 24/7, but new patients will be admitted from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Teams will have diagnostic tests on-site and can keep patients under observation for short stays.

Patients admitted to mini-hospitals must be referred by a health-care professional from another facility or a referral via the front-line access desk, 811, 911, or ambulance attendants. The government aims to relieve hospital overcrowding of less urgent cases, specifically P4 and P5, as they are known in medical jargon.

The health minister's office has said it is aware of situations where elderly adults who arrive at emergency departments can spend several hours there, where they are sorted to the bottom of the priority scale. It's often not an appropriate environment for seniors and can even be hostile. The mini-hospital concept is designed to alleviate such situations.

These facilities will also have access for ambulances and paratransit.

The government said it might repeat the mini-hospital project elsewhere in Quebec.

"We have always said that the private network must complement the public network, and by joining forces as we are doing today, Quebecers will have better access to their health-care network," said Dubé in a press release.

Not everyone in the health-care sector welcomed the mini-hospital concept presented on Wednesday.

Health-care union the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux (FSSS-CSN) voiced its displeasure in a post on X.

"Now the CAQ wants to reserve its future private hospitals for seniors. Minister Dubé just doesn't get it. We need to invest in the public sector. Studies show that the private sector is not good for health," the federation wrote.

The Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) pointed out on X that although 73 per cent of Quebecers support the concept of mini-hospitals, "the CAQ is backing away from its project and distorting it by creating large GMFs and minor emergency rooms for seniors instead. By visiting Quebec's emergency rooms, the CAQ would realize that emergency room waits affect all age groups."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 17, 2024. The Canadian Press health content is funded through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices.  

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