Coroner to investigate Quebec man's death after 2-hour ambulance wait
Town of Senneterre's 24-hour emergency room had its hours reduced due to lack of staff
The Quebec coroner's office says it will now investigate after a man in Senneterre, a town in Quebec's Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, died following a two-hour wait for an ambulance this week. His local emergency room's service had been scaled back due to staffing shortages.
The town, located about 535 kilometres northwest of Montreal, announced the death Wednesday. Later, the family of 65-year-old Richard Genest confirmed that he was the patient who had died.
Marianne Genest, speaking to CBC News, said her father called for an ambulance around 2:40 a.m. Tuesday, after the town's emergency room had closed. Senneterre's ER has been operating only eight hours a day since mid-October due to lack of staff.
But according to a statement from the town, the only ambulance was already en route to Val d'Or, nearly 70 kilometres away, with another patient. Genest waited two hours for another ambulance, which had to come from the neighbouring town of Barraute, according to the statement.
Genest was then taken to the hospital in Val d'Or, where he was assessed by medical professionals, his daughter said, noting it was decided that he should be transferred to the town of Amos, an hour away, where there was an emergency vascular surgeon on staff.
According to his daughter, Genest died in the elevator on his way to the operating table, around 10 a.m. Tuesday — over seven hours after he first called for an ambulance.
Mayor asked province to intervene
Senneterre mayor Nathalie-Anne Pelchat said the situation could have been avoided if the town was able to have a 24-hour emergency room.
She said she reached out to the regional health authority before Genest's death, asking it to reopen the emergency room at full capacity as soon as possible. She said she also wrote to Quebec's health minister, Christian Dubé, in late September and asked him to intervene after the health authority announced the ER would reduce its hours.
"We take it very personally. The whole community of Senneterre is really in shock," Pelchat told Radio-Canada. "We knew it was going to happen, we said it over and over again, no one believed us."
"We knew it was going to happen and, unfortunately, it happened."
Olivier Allaire, co-founder of community group Urgence d'Agir, who is advocating for the local ER to return to its previous hours, says he worries people will postpone getting treatment knowing that emergency services aren't being offered 24-hours a day.
"If [health authorities] would just listen to us and not think that they have all the answers in the world and that we are from a small community, and we know nothing," he said. "Because that's how we feel we are treated."
'You can't just leave us like this'
Émilise Lessard-Therrien, a Québec Solidaire MNA who represents the region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue at the National Assembly, said she felt her region had been "abandoned" by the provincial government.
"We have a lot of questions about what happened. If the ambulance, if the paramedics were there … if the paramedics went directly to Amos, to the [right] specialist, maybe Richard Genest would be still alive."
Marianne Genest said that it was definitely a problem, not only in Senneterre, but in small towns across the province.
"Every city should have a 24-hour emergency, or something, because we're human beings," she said. "You can't just leave us like this."
The Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue (CISSS-AT), which oversees health services in the region, said in a statement late Wednesday that it investigated the incident and found all protocols were followed.
It also said the closure of the emergency clinic was "not a factor that contributed to the death" and that the coroner's office had been contacted about the case and decided there wasn't enough "to justify an investigation."
Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, Premier François Legault said he spoke with the head of the health authority, and echoed its conclusion that the ER closure did not contribute to Genest's death.
Coroner to investigate
The three opposition parties at the National Assembly called on the Quebec coroner's office Thursday to look into the incident.
The coroner confirmed Thursday afternoon in a statement that it had opened an investigation.
During an online news conference, regional health authorities doubled down on the idea that the ER's overnight closure played no role in Genest's death.
Dr. François Aumond, director of professional services of the CISSS-AT, said Genest's condition required a radiology exam — a service that is unavailable in Senneterre — meaning he would have needed to be sent to a hospital in Val d'Or.
"As soon as [the patient] arrived in Val d'Or, which was the closest hospital and perfectly appropriate for his health condition, the medical evaluation was conducted quickly … confirming a pathology that required emergency surgery," he said.
"The transfer was done, without delay, to the Amos hospital, where he was pronounced dead. At that point, any surgery would have been futile."
Marianne Genest said she'd remember her father as the well-loved "village clown," who was always there for his children, made people laugh, and put others' needs before his own.
A remembrance march for Genest has been organized in Senneterre for Friday night.
With files from Radio-Canada, Kate McKenna and Sarah Leavitt