Quebec forced to scale back health-care services as COVID-19 cases spike

Quebec hospitals are being ordered to scale back surgeries and other services as COVID-19 continues to slam the province.

Health minister declines to predict how long service slowdown will last

The CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal asked the population to avoid the Lakeshore General Hospital's emergency department as it is over capacity. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Quebec hospitals are being ordered to scale back surgeries and other services as COVID-19 continues to slam the province.

Hospitalizations increased by 40 on Monday for a total of 818. Of those, 105 people were in intensive care, an increase of three from a day before.

"This increase is going too fast," Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said during his Monday news briefing.

"This is the reason we needed to prevent or warn people who were to come to clinics or hospitals that we are cancelling quite a big number of appointments or surgeries. That is unfortunate, but it is to take care of those COVID patients."

He was unable to predict how long this slowdown in services — much like what took place in the spring — will last. He said the first step will be to get the situation under control to ensure the health-care network isn't overwhelmed.

Dubé said the province has no more leeway now that the number of intensive care patients has spiked above 100. He said health officials can't afford to wait to act any longer.

He said the reality of the situation is going to start hitting Quebecers personally when friends and family have their appointments cancelled. He hopes that will motivate people to follow public health guidelines to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Staff shortages lead to reduced capacity

Last week, Premier François Legault said some 6,600 health-care workers were out sick or on preventive leave. 

Quebec can keep adding beds to the health network, but those beds are useless if the province does not have the staff to care for patients, he said.

Staff shortages have been a recurring issue throughout the pandemic in both the health network and in long-term care homes.

Quebec City's university hospital network was the first to announce it was cancelling 4,000 outpatient appointments and 300 surgeries per week until further notice on Monday.

The move is to reallocate hospital staff to tackle COVID-19, according to a statement by the CHU de Québec–Université Laval.

The rising number of cases is putting too much pressure on the system, the statement says.

The changes will affect about 30 per cent of the network's capacity across five hospitals. More delays and cancellations may be necessary in the future, the statement says.

"The situation we are going through is extremely difficult and requires choices that we would have preferred not to have to make," said Martin Beaumont, president and CEO of the CHU de Québec.

In a letter sent to health boards, the Health Ministry says hospitals should be freeing up two-thirds of their beds for potential COVID-19 patients by Friday. 

And that they should have a plan to operate at 150 per cent capacity of beds, with 100 per cent available for COVID-19 patients by Dec. 17.

A Montreal public health spokesperson declined to comment on the slowdown in the city on Monday afternoon, instead referring CBC to the health minister's announcement.

Lakeshore asks people to avoid emergency department

On Sunday, the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal asked the population to avoid the Lakeshore General Hospital's emergency department.

"With a stretcher occupancy rate of 132 per cent, the emergency is at full capacity," the health authority said in a statement.

Health Minister Christian Dubé has said the province would accelerate its COVID-19 vaccination campaign. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The hospital is designated to treat COVID-19 cases, making patient flow more challenging while the facility is dealing with staff shortage issues, the statement says.

Quebec reported 1,577 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and attributed 22 additional deaths to the virus after a record-breaking weekend.

The region with the most new cases was Montreal at 472. The Montérégie, south of Montreal, was the next largest influx with 220 new cases reported Monday.

With files from Radio-Canada and the Canadian Press

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