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More delays to replace CT scanners in rural western Quebec

An already two-year wait in replacing imaging equipment at two hospitals in a rural part of western Quebec is being extended, putting stroke patients at greater risk, says a family doctor in Shawville, Que.

Concern especially big for stroke patients

The CT scanner at the Pontiac Hospital was installed in 2010 and was originally scheduled for replacement in 2020. (CISSS de l'Outaouais)

An already two-year wait in replacing imaging equipment at two hospitals in a rural part of western Quebec is being extended, putting stroke patients at greater risk, says a family doctor in Shawville, Que.

Speaking to Radio-Canada, Dr. Pascal Croteau said he's become increasingly worried for stroke patients after the CT scanner at the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville was off-line for repairs for a week in December 2021.

That shutdown meant patients needing an urgent CT scan were sent an hour away to the Hull Hospital in Gatineau, Que., at a critical time when a brain scan is desperately needed within three hours of a stroke, said Croteau.

"We have a short window to react after a stroke," said Croteau in French. "Without a CT scan to know if there's hemorrhaging we can't determine if we should administer drugs to destroy a blood clot."

Croteau adds that patients who are sent to Hull are transported there in an ambulance, meaning there's one less ambulance available in an already poorly served community.

Dr. Pascal Croteau, a family physician in Shawville, Que., says he's concerned stroke patients will lose critical time being transported an hour away to Gatineau for a CT scan when the Pontiac Hospital's scanner is shut down. (Simon Lasalle/Radio-Canada)

Equipment failures happening too often, say radiologists

The December 2021 shutdown of Shawville's CT scanner wasn't the only occasion patients in rural Outaouais were diverted to Gatineau for imaging, according to the region's health agency, the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de l'Outaouais.

Since January 2021, the Pontiac Hospital's CT scanner has been down for repairs three times, while the CT scanner at the Maniwaki Hospital in Maniwaki, Que., was repaired six times, the agency said, with the average shutdown lasting 24 hours.

"If it happens once or twice a year, that's not so alarming," said Dr. Magalie Dubé, president of the Association of Radiologists of Quebec. "But six times is too often."

Dr. Magalie Dubé, president of the Association of Radiologists of Quebec, says shutdowns of the CT scanners at rural hospitals in Outaouais are too frequent. (Facebook/Magalie Dubé)

Three-year delay

The CT scanners at both the Pontiac and Maniwaki hospitals were purchased in 2010 and were supposed to be replaced after 10 years of service, as is standard practice.

But several circumstances have thrown a wrench in the replacement process, said Zied Ouechteti, the deputy director of diagnostic services with the CISSS.

In 2021, a strategic decision was made to prioritize replacing the scanners at the Hull Hospital, which houses a trauma centre, and there was an effort to limit the number of scanners in the region that would be simultaneously off-line, Ouechteti said.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic caused logistical delays, and the provincial government only approved new scanners for Pontiac and Maniwaki in 2021.

"We can extend the life of the scanner a bit, based on how much they're used," he said in French.

Zied Ouechteti, deputy director of diagnostic services with Outaouais's health agency, says new CT scanners should be operational at both the Pontiac and Maniwaki hospitals by Match 2023. (Jacques Corriveau/Radio-Canada)

Ouechteti said the results of a request for tender for new scanners should be known in October 2022, with installation to follow three to six months later.

But that news only reinforces Croteau's feelings on how western Quebec residents outside of Gatineau are treated.

"For us folks in the rural regions … we're often the poor cousins and the forgotten ones in the health system," he said in French.

"We deserve services, not a reduction in services."

The CT scanner at the Pontiac Hospital was out of service for a week in December 2021. (Simon Lasalle/Radio-Canada)

With files from Catherine Morasse

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