'Structural change' needed in health system, Quebec health minister says

Since last fall, overflows in the emergency room have been so frequent that the minister set up a crisis unit in the hope of getting quick results. But Christian Dubé said he wants to see structural changes in the health system.

Christian Dubé says the emergency crisis unit measures should be sufficient

A man speaks behind a microphone.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé says the crisis unit measures should be enough to ease the strain on ERs in the province. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

With the National Assembly back in session, the health minister wants to talk about things other than the emergency room crisis in Quebec.

"Yes, it's fun to put out fires and deal with emergencies, but I'm not here for that," said Christian Dubé during his first press scrum of the year.

"I'm here to have structuring effects that will change things [...] and in the coming weeks, we will leave the urgent to work on the important," he said.

Since last fall, overflows in emergency rooms have been so frequent that the minister set up a crisis unit in the hope of getting quick results.

Some measures put in place by the minister include widening the scope of the Info-Santé 811 line and specialized nurse practitioner clinics.

For now, hospital bed occupancy rates remain on average above 125 per cent. More than a fifth of emergency rooms exceed 150 per cent. The average length of stay fluctuates between 18 and 20 hours on a stretcher and over five hours in the waiting room

But Dubé said some indicators in the health system are heading in the right direction. 

"It is no longer so much new measures that we need, but to implement those that have been proposed to us," said Dubé.

Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital struggling

Compulsory overtime remains common in the emergency department of the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, one of the largest in Quebec.

Radio-Canada sources who were not authorized to speak publicly confirmed more than 400 compulsory overtime hours were worked last weekend and that the vast majority of nurses were called upon to work. A long-time ER doctor said it was "a situation never seen."

Asked about the eastern Montreal hospital, Dubé said the establishment is among "those who have the most difficulty implementing measures."

He says he has questioned the CEO of the CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, Jean-François Fortin Verreault, on this subject.

"Why are there about 30 hospitals that have managed to implement local schedule management? I asked Mr. Fortin [for explanations], I will ask the unions," he said.

Several Radio-Canada sources said the recurrent setbacks in the emergency room of the hospital create significant tensions with management, but also between overworked and burnt out staff members.

Radio-Canada recently revealed that the Quebec government has closed the door on a pilot project aimed at reducing compulsory overtime at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada