Quebec hospitals are filling up, and doctors worry Christmas gatherings could push them over the edge
Premier's self-imposed deadline to decide on gatherings is Dec. 11
Quebec hospitals usually see a rise in visits to the emergency room in early January, yet many across the province are already swamped.
Doctors at some hospitals are urging Premier François Legault to cancel Christmas gatherings to avoid pushing the province's health-care system beyond its limits.
Emergency rooms in several regions, including Montreal, Laval, Quebec City, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière, are operating well above capacity.
About 30 percent of the province's ERs are operating at full capacity or far beyond that. Here are some examples, as of Wednesday morning:
- Lakeshore General Hospital (Montreal): 142 per cent capacity.
- Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital (Montreal): 141 percent capacity.
- Cité de la Santé Hospital (Laval): 129 per cent capacity.
- Pierre-Le Gardeur Hospital (Lanaudière): 158 per cent capacity.
- Pierre-Boucher Hospital (Montérégie): 189 per cent capacity.
The number of people in emergency rooms traditionally rises between December and January. Last year, Quebec was 113 per cent in December, and 123 per cent in January, according to data provided by Quebec's Health Ministry.
In the view of Dr. François Marquis, the head of intensive care at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, many facilities are taking in more COVID-19 patients, and that is putting pressure on emergency rooms across the province.
"As a doctor that looks strictly at the physical health aspect, and that's very restricted [as a perspective], the answer is simple: nothing at Christmas, we see no one," said Marquis.
"The reason I make that distinction, there's also mental health and we need to see people."
Quebec reported Tuesday more than 700 people in hospital due to COVID-19, an issue Legault alluded to when acknowledging he may need to scrap the province's holiday gathering plan.
Dr. Vincent Bouchard-Dechêne, an internal medicine specialist at Notre-Dâme Hospital, doesn't see how hospitals can deal with an increase in COVID-19 patients after the holidays, while still providing service to people with other ailments.
"To limit gatherings during Christmas time, would be the best gift we could give ourselves," said Bouchard-Dechêne.
For now, the province plans to allow up to two gatherings between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27, with a maximum of ten people in attendance and with no limit on the number of households those people would come from.
Legault is expected to make a final decision by Dec. 11.
Is nine days enough?
The characteristics of COVID-19, including the time it takes for its symptoms to appear, make it difficult for trends to change much between now and Dec. 11, according to Dr. Matthew Oughton, a physician with the Jewish General Hospital's infectious diseases division.
"That's really at the fine cutting edge of where anything that you would do today, you'd really see changes reflected in the numbers by Dec. 11," said Oughton.
"I'm certainly not optimistic that we're going to be able to change course in such a short time."
Oughton said it was a mistake for the premier to release the plan for gatherings first, and then tell Quebecers they would only be allowed if the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations went down.
"[He should've] said, 'look, this is what's at stake, it's Christmas gatherings. In order for us to situate ourselves well, we need to get our numbers down," said Oughton.
"Rather than giving up the reward upfront, and then sort of threaten to take it away.
A growing number out outbreaks in private seniors homes (RPAs) could also make the health-care system even more fragile during the holiday period.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé highlighted the situation in Quebec City, where a number of nurses have had to be deployed to 16 RPAs in an effort to contain the virus within those homes.
Dubé admitted that taking staff away from hospitals is not ideal, but said the province has no choice but to offer help.
"What we need to is stop contacts in RPAs, to be certain that we don't have to transfer personnel that we currently don't have, to be very, very clear," Dubé said.
With files from Radio-Canada's David Gentile and CBC Montreal's Daybreak