Quebec hospital staff wearing down as the unvaccinated crowd ICUs

The number of people in Quebec hospitals due to COVID-19 has shot up, and many of those patients are unvaccinated. As a result, major surgeries continue to get postponed and health-care workers feel exasperated.

Surge in COVID-19 cases leading to more cancelled surgeries, doctor says

Dr. Patrick Bellemare, who heads the intensive-care unit at Montreal's Sacré-Coeur Hospital, said he had to cancel surgeries this week due to an influx of COVID-19 patients. (David Gentile/Radio-Canada)

When Yves Campagna showed up to Montreal's Sacré-Coeur Hospital for major vascular surgery at 6.a.m on Wednesday, he was first on the list. 

Then he waited. More than seven hours later, staff at the hospital located in the city's Cartierville neighbourhood finally told Campagna that his surgery was cancelled. 

"All I can hope for is that they'll give me another appointment within a week or two," he said.

According to Radio-Canada, an influx of COVID-19 patients is the reason behind Campagna's predicament.

In recent weeks, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has shot up.

As a result, surgeries across the province continue to be postponed — a situation that's frustrating for people like Campagna while also exasperating worn-out health-care workers 18 months into the pandemic.

"I was on call during the night [from Tuesday to Wednesday], and we admitted three COVID patients ... four patients who had trauma including a broken neck, one who had been shot, and [someone who had been in] a serious car accident," said Dr. Patrick Bellemare, heads Sacré-Coeur Hospital's intensive-care unit. 

"The two major surgeries that I had to cancel this afternoon, those are [due to] the two COVID patients that I had to move up [in priority] at the end of the night."

WATCH | Hospitals are seeing a rise in intensive care admissions: 

Hospitalizations are going up in Quebec, but staff are worn out

1 year ago
Duration 2:10
The highly contagious delta variant is now circulating widely, and hospitals are seeing a rise in intensive care admissions. Most of the patients are unvaccinated.

As of Thursday Quebec had 119 COVID-19 patients in hospital, and 36 of them were in intensive care.

It's a far cry from the 1,500 coronavirus hospitalizations the province had back in January. However, recent projections from the province's health research institute (INESSS) show those numbers could balloon in the coming weeks, especially in and around Montreal.

There are about 150,000 patients waiting for surgery in the province. The Quebec government wants to reduce that total to 100,000 by March of 2023.

There are currently 150,000 Quebecers waiting for surgeries. The province hopes to reduce that number to 100,000 by March 2023. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

4 ICU patients, all unvaccinated

On Monday, Radio-Canada filmed Bellemare as he went to check on a COVID-19 patient, who was wearing a facemask for ventilation.

First, he asked the patient if he had any chest pains or belly pains, or if he felt better with the facemask. Then he asked about the man's vaccination status.

"No vaccine? You had no vaccine?" Bellemare asked, before shaking his head.

He then informed the patient he will need to put be in a medically-induced coma.

"We'll have to change that facemask ventilation for a tube and then we'll make you sleep a few days."

The man is one of four COVID-19 patients in Sacré-Coeur's intensive-care unit. All of them are unvaccinated.

"People are fed up," Bellemare said in reference to how health-care workers feel about treating people who chose to not get vaccinated.

"In the name of individual freedom, 'I don't have to get vaccinated' is the type of argument that we hear these days... But in the name of individual freedom, I don't drive the wrong way down a one-way street." 

Several nurses told Radio-Canada they were exhausted and hoped the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases would be brief and without reaching the heights of previous ones. 

"We have physical space, beds," Bellemare said. "But empty beds don't care for people, staff [do], and we can't turn people into intensive-care experts overnight. It doesn't work like that."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's David Gentile and David Boily


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