Quebec to invest $100 million to shorten ER waits
December 14, 2016
QUEBEC CITY – In a bid to alleviate the longest ER wait times in the country, Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette (pictured) has announced a $100-million program to reduce ER overcrowding.
A key part of the plan is re-opening beds in long-term care centres, but Barrette was vague on when the funding will begin, the Montreal Gazette reported.
Barrette attributed the ER crisis to the fact that up to 20 percent of beds in acute-care hospitals are being occupied by patients who would be better off in nursing homes and rehabilitation centres. If more acute-care beds were made available, patients wouldn’t have to receive care on stretchers in the ERs, he said.
“Short-term beds in hospitals must be used by patients in need of acute care and not by those who require chronic care or continuous care,” Barrette told reporters.
“The additional resources will allow us to respond immediately to the needs of patients … and allow for more efficient management.”
The government will reopen 2,100 chronic-care and other beds across the province. Of that number, Barrette said that 1,000 beds will be reopened before the next provincial budget, likely to be tabled in March. The minister did not specify when the other beds would be reopened, or in which institutions.
Still, the lion’s share of the funding, $55 million, would be spent to reopen 1,472 beds in long-term care centres, known in French as CHSLDs. The balance would go toward reopening beds for those in need of mental-health care, convalescence and rehabilitation.
Dr. Bernard Mathieu, president of the Association des médecins d’urgence du Québec, praised the government for finally tackling the ER crisis. But he expressed concern over whether the funding will make a lasting difference in the years ahead, and he urged Barrette to take heed of the concerns of emergency doctors rather than sticking to his “top-down approach.”
“This is a substantial announcement,” Mathieu said in an interview. “We’ve been complaining about the situation in the ERs for years.
“This is the first time he does something that we approve of, and we would appreciate more discussions with him in the future,” Mathieu added.
The $100 million follows other funding announcements by Barrette in the past three weeks. Barrette said the Liberal government had to balance its budget first before reinvesting in healthcare. But the province is flush with a $2.2-billion budget surplus – much higher than anticipated – prompting the opposition Parti Québécois to accuse Barrette of cutting too deeply in healthcare in the first place.
“Each dollar that was announced today was made as a result of the sacrifices that he imposed on Quebecers over the past two and a half years,” said Diane Lamarre, the PQ’s health critic. “The minister cut too much. He’s realized that he’s gone too far and now he’s trying to repair the damage.”
In June, Quebec’s health commissioner reported that wait times in the province’s emergency rooms are the longest in the country and among the worst in the western world.
The waits are so long that one patient in 10 who goes to an ER leaves in frustration without being seen by a doctor, commissioner Robert Salois observed.
François Paradis, health critic for the Coalition Avenir Québec, noted that a total of 3,500 elderly Quebecers are currently waiting an average of 200 days for a place in the publicly-run CHSLDs. Reopening nearly 1,500 CHSLD beds to unclog ERs makes some sense, Paradis said, but that measure still won’t solve the underlying problem of a lack of spots in long-term care centres.