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'There’s a whole chain reaction to this': doctor uneasy as ERs tip over capacity


Rising cases of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu are bogging down Quebec hospitals, and Dr. Christopher Labos is advising the province to take action before it’s too late.

Quebec’s emergency rooms are 97 per cent full province-wide, and many are already over capacity: Laval is at 104 per cent capacity, and both Monteregie and Montreal are at 111 per cent.

The Lakeshore Hospital and the Notre Hospital were beyond 160 per cent capacity on Monday.

“Emergency rooms work at high capacity at best of times — you throw in COVID and you throw in rising numbers of flu cases, it doesn’t take much to stretch capacity,” explains Labos, a cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology.

The spike in hospital visits comes as Quebec enters a sixth wave of COVID-19, one month after most health measures were relaxed.

On Friday, Health Minister Christian Dube said 13,000 health care workers are out of action because of the virus and anticipated a tough couple weeks ahead.

Labos warns restrictions may be necessary if this trend continues.

“As the situation worsens, [we] have to do more to fight against it. Because if we do nothing and let hospitalizations and ICU cases rise, that is eventually going to create a situation where we can’t deal with other stuff, and we have to start cancelling surgeries and other medical services like we did before.”

But after two years of pandemic restrictions, most people aren’t eager to have them re-imposed — and the government appears to feel the same.

The health minister is urging Quebecers to remain cautious ahead of holiday gatherings, but hasn’t indicated any health measures to come.

“I think people need to be conscious there is a risk, and when there is a risk it’s sometimes better to […] wait a couple weeks to see people,” said Dube.

Meanwhile, health and social services centres (CIUSSSs) have asked the population to limit ER visits as much as possible.

“When to go to the emergency room? Only if your health condition requires immediate care,” reads a statement on their Facebook page.

But as many gather over the Easter weekend, Labos says he’ll be watching the COVID-19 numbers in the days to come, bracing for a domino effect in hospitals.

“There’s a whole chain reaction to this, and we have to realize that it’s not good for healthcare to work full or over capacity, not the best way to provide quality care.”

With overcrowding in emergency rooms, doctors are warning that it could affect patient care. 

"We always look at numbers but if you really look microscopically, you look at the people that are affected, the patients who end up staying longer in the emergency rooms not being able to get the care they need to get better," said McGill University Health Centre nurse Naveed Hussain.

"This exacerbates their condition, they get worse and they end up coming to the hospital floors sicker than they should have been."

Hussain said Quebec should make better use of community resources like CLSCs and the 811 Info-Santé line to steet patients who don't need emergency care away from the ER. Top Stories

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