‘We are going to hit a crisis point’: Montreal doctors concerned as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

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WATCH: Pressure is peaking in hospitals across the province as cases and hospitalizations rates continue to climb. Verdun Hospital is currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that's forcing officials to keep patients who need to be hospitalized in the emergency room. Global News' Gloria Henriquez has the details – Dec 17, 2020

In Montreal, doctors witnessing the deepening novel coronavirus health crisis are concerned about the growing number of patients in hospitals and the mounting pressure on intensive care units across the city.

Dr. Don Sheppard, an infectious disease physician with the McGill University Health Centre and medical microbiologist, says the trend in hospitalizations rates in Montreal is “extremely concerning.” He was working on a COVID-19 ward two weeks ago and should be heading back soon as part of his schedule.

“The numbers are going up now quite rapidly,” he said. “We’re already seeing that we are having to close up other services, cancel surgeries in order to open beds to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

“Our ICUs are signaling that we may be in trouble very soon.”

Quebec exceeded 1,000 hospitalizations Thursday, a grim milestone for the second wave of the pandemic in the province. It is the highest number of patients in hospital for the virus since June.

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Health Minister Christian Dubé said the latest numbers show that some hospitals are at a critical capacity in some areas and called on Quebecers to continue doing their part to to limit the spread of the virus.

Read more: Coronavirus: Situation in Montreal deteriorating but vaccine offers ‘light at end of the tunnel’

In Montreal — which has been one of the cities hardest hit by the virus since it first bore down in March — health authorities reported more than 380 patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 this week. That number rose by 100 in just one week.

Public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said Wednesday that the new lockdown measures for the holiday season will help alleviate the pressure on the city’s health-care network, which is grappling with a worsening second wave.

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The growing demand on Montreal hospitals has been noticeable in recent weeks. Some institutions, including the Lakeshore General Hospital, had to turn away patients seeking emergency care earlier this month.

The situation has also led the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal to cancel vacations through the Christmas holidays for some front-line health-care workers and redeployments are currently underway to move staff “in an effort to lend a hand in at-risk sectors.”

On Wednesday, Montrealers were asked to avoid going to the emergency room for minor health problems, as several hospitals are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, overcrowded emergency rooms and staff shortages.

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One of the hospitals dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak is Verdun hospital.

Officials are asking the public to avoid the hospital’s emergency room and call a family doctor or super clinic instead.

The outbreak is contained in four of their wards: 33 patients, 16 staff members and three interns are currently infected.

Their 36-bed COVID ward is at capacity.

Staff are currently disinfecting the wards and are testing patients that may be infected.

The operation has impacted services, especially in the hospital’s emergency room which is currently operating at 170 per cent capacity, according to Pierre-Paul Millete, CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal deputy director.

About 30 patients are being kept in the E.R. because they can’t be hospitalized while the cleaning is being performed.

Millete says he worries about the coming days.

“With all the shopping going on right now, in January or two weeks from now we will see the progressions, so that really worries us… to see the additional pressure that it can create in the health care network, which is very precarious at the moment,” Millete explained.

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Coronavirus: Quebec parents and teachers bracing for online learning – Dec 16, 2020

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist, says the rising number of hospitalizations in Quebec is an “inevitable consequence” of sustained community transmission of the virus.

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Aside from dealing with influenza season, there is also a shortage of health-care workers who need to quarantine after being exposed to the virus, he said. Montreal health authorities said Wednesday 429 health-care workers have been put off sick due to positive COVID-19 tests, while over 560 others are off as they await results.

The disease itself also makes for long hospital stays, he added.

“This is a bad conjunction of circumstances but this is where we’re at,” Oughton said.

Not only is there a large number of new cases in the province, there is a steady influx of patients, according to Oughton.

“From my point of view, if you look at the numbers we have right now clearly we’re being pushed very hard,” he said.

‘We are going to hit a crisis point’

Sheppard, for his part, says the situation is “extremely worrisome.”

“We are seeing the writing on the wall that within the next two weeks, we are going to hit a crisis point,” he said.

The Quebec government’s temporary lockdown from Dec. 25 to Jan. 11 should have implemented earlier to curb the rising numbers, according to Sheppard.

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“We really needed those measures to start a week and a half, two weeks ago because hospitalizations follow two weeks after case numbers as a general rule,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Annabelle Olivier

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