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Help sought for 'crumbling' health-care system in western Quebec

Health-care workers in western Quebec say hospitals are at a breaking point and they blame government indifference for harming emergency room care.

Staffing shortages recently forced closure of Gatineau Hospital emergency department

Protesters call for better health care in western Quebec as emergency departments struggle

2 months ago
0:37
Local unions and health-care advocates held a rally outside the Gatineau Hospital Thursday morning. The hospital’s emergency department closed in June due to staff shortages and has since reopened, though capacity is still limited. 0:37

Health-care workers in western Quebec say hospitals are at a breaking point and they blame government indifference for harming emergency room care.

Nurses, union members and health-care advocates held a rally outside the Gatineau Hospital on Thursday, which comes three weeks after the hospital's emergency department shuttered its doors because it didn't have enough staff to continue operating.

The unit has reopened with limited capacity, but staff members say they are struggling.

"We survive. We try to do the best we can for our patients, our colleagues," said Emma Karasko, a nurse who works the overnight shift in the ER.

"It must be said, everyone is falling in battle. We are faced with a wall. We no longer have a choice. We need urgent solutions," she told Radio-Canada.

Adélaide Mabungu, a nurse who has worked at the hospital for nearly a decade, said staff are exhausted.

"We do not give the care that a nurse should give to a patient," said Mabungu, who is also in charge of occupational health and safety for her union.

"I do not understand why people are not revolted by this."

Staffing shortages are nothing new in the Outaouais Region. The problem has persisted for years with a nurses' union telling patients two summers ago they should visit Ontario hospitals for emergency care

Karine D’Auteuil, interim president of the local nurses' union, said the health-care system is "crumbling" and urgent action is needed immediately. (Patrick Louiseize/CBC)

Emergency department occupancy rates posted online by Index Santé, Quebec's health directory, showed hospitals across the region were at an average 82 per cent capacity as of Thursday morning, but those numbers varied significantly depending on the hospital.

The Hull Hospital had 37 patients taking up beds in an emergency department designed to accommodate 25. Twelve patients had also been there for more than 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the Maniwaki Hospital's emergency department was at 167 per cent capacity.

As for the Gatineau hospital's emergency department, it's only seeing a select number of patients, including pregnant people, children and youth, as well as people experiencing a mental-health crisis. 

Urgent action needed, union says

The union representing local nurses demanded health minister Christian Dubé and the minister responsible for the Outaouais. Mathieu Lacombe, take action.

"We must invest in the health-care system, which is in the process of crumbling," said Karine D'Auteuil, the union's interim president, adding the system has been underfunded for years.

On Wednesday, the citizen group Équité Outaouais said it wanted the Canadian Armed Forces to lend a hand in emergency rooms across the region, but the local health unit rejected the idea.

D'Auteuil believes help from the army would be beneficial.

"In the short term, for sure, it can breathe life into the team. It's exhausted," she said. 

"If we have extra arms to help with the patients, it can't hurt. They are ready to take the help that is available as long as the care is safe."

With files from Radio-Canada's Antoine Trépanier and Jérémie Bergeron

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