The return to normal operating hours for the emergency department at the Lachine Hospital scheduled for Monday is being postponed until further notice as the fifth wave of COVID-19 continues to surge.
The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), which oversees hospital operations, said in a news release Friday that it was a “difficult but necessary decision.”
Health authorities cited hospital outbreaks and staff shortages due to illness for its decision. Provincewide, more than 20,000 health workers are off the job because of COVID-19, according to the health ministry.
“We need to ensure that the outbreaks are over and that our workers at the Lachine Hospital are well enough to provide quality care and a safe environment for patients and employees,” said Dr. Pierre Gfeller, MUHC president and executive director, in a release.
The decision isn’t sitting well with everyone.
“We are going through a crisis and there is a shortage of health-care workers but this should not be a go-to solution,” said Dr. Paul Saba, head of Lachine Hospital’s council of physicians.
Saba says once a department is closed or has its hours reduced, it is difficult to reopen.
“The government calls it reorganization, I call it closing smaller facilities to feed into the larger facilities,” he said.
The Lachine Hospital first reduced its emergency room hours on Nov. 7, remaining open seven days a week but only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ambulances were also being diverted to other hospitals.
At the time, the MUHC said it was dealing with a critical shortage of nurses and respiratory therapists — an issue that still persists.
The MUHC, however, said it is taking the necessary steps to fill the void.
“The MUHC, in collaboration with the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux and other Montreal establishments, continues its work to ensure full access to the health services required by the population of Lachine and the surrounding area as quickly as possible,” wrote MUHC spokesperson Gilda Salomone.
“In that sense, we continue our recruitment campaigns in nursing and respiratory therapy.”
The MUHC also pointed to a $200-million project aimed at modernizing the Lachine Hospital.
Borough Mayor Maja Vodanovic said she was disappointed to hear of the postponed reopening of the ER but is optimistic staff will want to return soon.
“Once we have our new hospital we’ll become attractive and a place where people will want to come and be,” she said. “So I think we have to wait it out but not too long.”
For Dr. Fahimy Saoud, an ER physician at Lachine Hospital, that moment can’t come soon enough.
“Helpless is the first word that comes to my mind. Being an emergency room doctor knowing what is going around and not being helpful to the max that I could.”
Though hours have been cut back, walk-in patients can continue going to the Lachine Hospital ER from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., seven days a week.
— With files from Global News’ Elizabeth Zogalis