As many Montrealers cherish one more day of relaxation before heading back to work, already-tired health-care professionals are fearing tough times ahead in the province’s emergency rooms.
“I think after New Year’s, it’s going to be like a catastrophe,” said Melanie Gignac, a nurse who heads the Monteregie-West Nurses Union.
While last New Year’s Eve, Quebec was under curfew, this year, parties were in full swing.
“People are finally able to see their loved ones during the holidays. We weren’t allowed to do that last year,” said Dr. Cristian Toarta, McGill University Health Centre Associate Emergency Department Chief.
“Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are going to be sick, hopefully not sick enough to end up hospitalized, but certainly we’re going to see an increase in the number of viral illnesses.”
Emergency departments are already busy. The Jewish General Hospital was at 175 per cent capacity Monday afternoon. Santa Cabrini was at 166 per cent, Royal Victoria and the Montreal General were both at 155 per cent, and the Lakeshore was at 139 per cent, according to hospital data.
Gignac works at the Suroit Hospital in Valleyfield, where they were at over 200 per cent capacity on Monday.
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“Every year after New Year’s, it’s always like a lot of people are getting sick. I think this year is going to be worse because we don’t have enough staff to just provide health care,” she said.
Toarta, who spoke to Global News from the Montreal General Hospital, said he thinks staff members will need to work even harder.
“Everybody’s going to have to do a little bit more, and it’s tough because we’ve all been in a marathon that’s now close to three years long,” he said.
He said though flu, COVID and RSV cases are starting to lower, they’re still putting a strain on the health system.
People are also showing up with other problems requiring admission, but space is limited, so more pressure falls on emergency rooms.
“During the pandemic, people have unfortunately not had the greatest access to health care. and now some of these problems have compounded and they’re coming in quite sick, requiring admission, and those admissions are back flowing into the emergency department,” Toarta explained.
He says the decrease in respiratory viruses has eased some of the pressure on children’s hospitals, but doesn’t think the adult hospitals will see much relief.
“Unfortunately, in the adult population, there’s not just viral illnesses. There’s also those chronic diseases, so I don’t expect to see something similar in our departments,” he told Global News.
Toarta says if you have an emergency, go to the ER. If your health problem is less pressing, call your family doctor or find a local clinic on the government website.
Gignac, the nurse, says authorities need to do more to keep nurses from leaving the public system to work in private medical practices.