Retired doctors and respiratory therapists in Quebec answering call to help in COVID-19 crisis

Since the province put out a call for reinforcements, about 60 recently retired doctors have offered their services to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

Professional orders fast-tracking recently retired and inactive members

Respiratory therapists, who are needed to care for COVID-19 patients in intensive care, are expected to be needed in big numbers in Quebec for months to come. (sfam_photo/Shutterstock)

Since the province put out a call for reinforcements, about 60 recently retired doctors have offered their services to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

"Most of them are family physicians, which is not really a surprise, and some of them are specialists in certain areas like psychiatry or public health." said Dr. Yves Robert, the secretary for Quebec's College of Physicians.

Robert said doctors need liability insurance in order to work, so a special agreement has been worked out with the Ministry of Health and Canadian Medical Protective Association to reactivate insurance, at no cost to the retired doctor.

Dr. Yves Robert, the secretary of Quebec's College of Physicians, said a retired doctor who meets the criteria can be reinstated in the college within 24 hours. (Submitted by Collège des médecins)

To be eligible, doctors need to meet three criteria: be under the age of 70, have stopped practising no more than three years ago and be in good standing with the college.

If those criteria are met, that physician's name is put on a list shared with the Ministry of Health.

If the needs of a certain hospital or regional health authority matches up with an available doctor, Robert said the doctor can be reinstated as a member in under 24 hours.

No one will be placed in an area where they don't have the expertise, said Robert, but some specialties are closely aligned with others, so some doctors may be called upon to help out in the intensive care unit or on wards where COVID-19 patients are present.

"We'll try to be as open-minded as possible to see where physicians could be [of] the most help," said Robert.

Respiratory therapists

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals have significantly reduced or postponed non-urgent services and redirected respiratory therapists who were working in operating rooms, outpatient clinics and diagnostic test labs.

Andréanne LeBel, director of legal affairs for OPIQ, Quebec's order of respiratory therapists, said OPIQ's members are being reassigned to general cardio-respiratory care, as well as emergency and intensive care.

Andréanne LeBel, director of legal affairs for Quebec’s order of respiratory therapists, said any members who planned to retire soon may postpone their retirement until June to continue working through the crisis. (Submitted by OPIQ)

Respiratory therapists play a primary role in monitoring the mechanical ventilation of critically ill patients.

So far, the hospitals are reorganizing internally to meet their needs, but LeBel said her order expects more therapists will be needed if those working now burn out.

The order currently has about 4,000 active members, but LeBel does not believe that will be enough to answer the demand.

"We expect respiratory therapists will be needed more as the crisis goes up," she said.

To help with staffing, OPIQ extended its membership renewal deadline from April 1 to June 1. This allows any respiratory therapist who planned to retire to postpone their retirement until June and continue working during the crisis.

Six former respiratory therapists contacted the Ministry of Health directly, and the order gave them the special authorization they needed to resume their practice.

Last Thursday, OPIQ also did a targeted email blitz to hundreds of non-active members in an attempt to recruit them to return to work. So far, LeBel said, six therapists have responded.

For a therapist under the age of 70 who retired within the last three years, LeBel said no additional training is required to return to work.

But a therapist who has been inactive or retired for between three and five years must complete online training — 18 hours' training for ICU therapists, and six hours for those in general care — before regaining the right to practise.

With files from Marie-Hélène Hétu

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