Quebec appoints external advisor after protest by nurses partially shuts down Montreal hospital ER

Click to play video: 'ER nurses at Montreal hospital threaten to quit'
ER nurses at Montreal hospital threaten to quit
WATCH: Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal is facing a crisis with nearly 100 emergency room nurses threatening to quit unless the province meets their demands. Mike Armstrong explains the deadline, the dispute, and how health authorities are trying to appease the union. – Jan 17, 2023

Quebec’s health minister says an external advisor will be brought in to help to find solutions after a sit-in protest staged by nurses partially shut down a hospital emergency room in Montreal’s east end.

“We’re taking this situation very seriously,” Christian Dubé told reporters gathered outside the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.

The move comes after Montrealers were urged to avoid the emergency department of the hospital overnight Monday into Tuesday morning due to the demonstration.

Late Monday, the local health authority warned that only patients in the ER and those arriving by ambulance would be admitted. The CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal said other ambulances would be redirected to other health-care institutions during that time.

Read more: Union representing Quebec nurses submits its new contract demands

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Click to play video: 'Quebec health minister calls on conciliator to resolve crisis at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital'
Quebec health minister calls on conciliator to resolve crisis at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital

The hospital’s ER reopened shortly after 8 a.m., but the protest comes as nurses who work in the emergency department say they are exhausted. Among sticking points is mandatory overtime, a measure meant to cover staffing shortages.

The team of nearly 100 nurses and auxiliary nurses has also threatened to resign en masse over working conditions by Wednesday. They have demanded the resignation of their unit chief.

The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la Santé du Québec, which represents the nurses, said negotiations will get underway but it is unsure what will happen Tuesday night.

Click to play video: 'Nurses force ER closure'
Nurses force ER closure

Dubé said the external advisor will meet with employees and management in the coming hours, but he admitted the situation in the ER is “untenable.”

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“It’s normal in those tough situations that we act with an external person who has a fresh look at it,” he said.

Jean-François Fortin-Verreault, head of the health authority for east-end Montreal, told reporters his goal is to keep the ER open and improve working conditions for nurses.

Read more: Quebec paramedics see pay cut for COVID-19 vaccination, testing

Fortin-Verreault says ambulances will transfer fewer patients to the ER to reduce the nurses’ workload, adding that the unit chief has been moved to another part of the health network.

The health minister said he will provide updates on the situation at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in the coming hours.

“My role is to make sure patients are being protected but also that employees are being listened (to),” Dubé said.

Meanwhile, Quebec’s official Opposition said the situation across the province’s health network is a result of the “incompetence” of the government.

After five years of the Coalition Avenir Québec, “not only has the emergency situation not improved, but our health system is cracking everywhere,” health critic André Fortin said in a statement Tuesday. “It is a dismal failure of the minister and a crisis of leadership, as he refuses to get directly involved when problems arise.”

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Québec solidaire health critic Vincent Marissal called the crisis at the ER an “active volcano,” adding that “if Dubé didn’t see the smoke signals before today, then we have a hell of a problem.”

Marissal said Quebec has never had more nurses working in the health network. The problem, he said, is the distribution of labour — and the fact nurses don’t want to work at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital because it is a “trap.”

“They don’t want to come to work here, because it’s a trap: when you enter the hospital, both as a nurse and as a patient, you never know when you’re going to come out,” he said, referencing the mandatory overtime that keeps nurses working significantly longer than eight hours per shift.

Marissal said the hospital will be 70 years old next year. “It is inadequate, dangerous and unattractive to staff. It’s the biggest (ER) in Quebec and we’ve been talking about renovations for years. It takes a real plan, a real schedule and a real budget.”

The occupancy rate at Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital was 117 per cent Tuesday at noon, according to website, which tracks the occupancy rates at the province’s hospitals.

— with files from Global News’ Phil Carpenter and The Canadian Press’ Marisela Amador

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