Montreal nurses heading to Shawville to bolster birth unit

Two nurses from Montreal are heading to Shawville, Que., to keep Pontiac Hospital's chronically short-staffed birthing unit open, the regional health authority says.

Pontiac MNA calls for permanent fix for chronically understaffed Pontiac Hospital

A nurse shortage at Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, Que., has closed its birthing unit five times this fall. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada )

Two nurses from Montreal are heading to Shawville, Que., to keep Pontiac Hospital's chronically short-staffed birthing unit open, the regional health authority says.

The nurses, who both work at the Jewish General Hospital, are set to arrive in early November, the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais [CISSSO] told CBC Friday.

They will alternate shifts at the hospital's obstetrics unit, working one week on, one week off for an indeterminate period of time, CISSSO said. 

Shawville struggled through late September and much of October to provide reliable care for women in labour and their babies. The hospital, which normally sees about 10 patients per month, sends them to Gatineau to give birth when the obstetrics unit is closed.

"It's really almost a guessing game as to when the unit will be open," Pontiac MNA André Fortin told Ottawa Morning's Hallie Cotnam.

"Giving birth should be one of the happiest moments in a family's life and instead, it's worrisome for all these families who are now hoping and praying they might give birth on a day when the obstetrics unit is open," the Liberal MNA said.

Radio-Canada found five recent instances where women were unable to give birth at Pontiac Hospital.

The hospital's obstetrics unit was closed:

  • Sept. 27 at 4 p.m. to Sept. 30 at 8 a.m.
  • Oct. 9 at midnight to Oct. 10 at 8 p.m.
  • Oct. 11 at noon to Oct. 14 at 8 p.m.
  • Oct. 18 at 8 a.m. to Oct. 21 at 8 a.m.
  • Oct. 23 at 8 a.m. to Oct. 28 at 4 p.m.

Fortin, a former health critic, challenged Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann in the National Assembly Wednesday, asking her how long the Pontiac would remain without a reliable obstetrics unit.

Minister promising fix

In French, McCann responded that she's aware of the situation in the Pontiac, and acknowledged obstetrics is a basic service.

"We will work very hard to … remediate the situation," she said.

"We know hospitals in Montreal have helped La Sarre and we addressed [the employee shortage] in La Sarre. This is what we'll do for the Pontiac Hospital."

Earlier this month, surgeries were cancelled at the hospital in La Sarre, about 410 kilometres northwest of Shawville, because of a similar staff shortage. 

But Fortin said he doubts the two nurses from Montreal will be much more than a temporary stopgap for Pontiac residents. According to Fortin, it takes 12 nurses to run an obstetrics department, but Pontiac Hospital currently has just four.

"There has to be a more permanent fix," Fortin said.

The Pontiac region will have trouble retaining staff so long as nurses are tempted to cross the Ottawa River for work in Ontario, he said. 

"The Quebec health care system, at least in this region, has a real hard time attracting and retaining its personnel because the working conditions in Ontario are better," Fortin said.

CBC contacted Quebec's health minister Friday. The minister was unable to provide a statement in response to the nurse shortage at Shawville's hospital but agreed to an interview with CBC's Ottawa Morning on Monday. 

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at

with files from Denise Fung, Ottawa Morning and Radio-Canada


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.