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Fatal deficit

April 24th,2024 | News

Dr. Peter Bonneville, the president of the Conseil des médecins, dentistes et pharmaciens (CMDP) of the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre of Outaouais (CISSSO), is raising alarms after the region's services will be slashed. All scans will be closed after 4 p.m. at the Hull hospital. Photo: Trevor Greenway

An ER doctor in Gatineau is ringing alarm bells and says that more patients will die after services at the Hull hospital are slashed in the coming weeks. 

Dr. Peter Bonneville, president of Conseil des médecins, dentistes et pharmaciens (CMDP) of the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre of Outaouais (CISSSO) and an ER doctor in Gatineau, says the region will be in a “crisis” in a matter of weeks after three medical scan technicians leave the Hull hospital for higher salaries in Ontario. 

“The first crisis of many is upon us,” Dr. Bonneville told the Low Down, explaining that all medical scans will be unavailable to patients every day from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. in Hull. This means that anyone needing a scan, which Bonneville says is crucial to identifying 90 per cent of emergency ailments – bone breaks, internal bleeding, concussions – will have to travel to the Gatineau hospital. However, if treatment is needed, Gatineau is not equipped to operate and a patient would need to be transferred back to Hull if surgery is required. Bonneville says the situation will ultimately lead to more patient deaths, as Hull is “the trauma centre for the area” for everything from critical care to neurology, cardiology and intensive care.

Bonneville pointed to a case in 2020 when 70-year-old Gatineau resident Jean Malavoy died at the Hull hospital after the hospital scanner was broken and he was transferred to Gatineau. In Gatineau, scans revealed internal bleeding, but the ER doctor there couldn’t operate and Malavoy was transferred back to Hull for treatment. A coroner’s report noted that the transfers caused two hours of delays and contributed to the man’s death. 

“If one person in 2020 died because they didn’t have access to the scan with proper timing, I think it is fair that we can assume that this will happen again.”

The problem, says Bonneville, is staffing.

He told the Low Down that most facilities in the region – CLSCs and clinics – are staffed at around 40 to 50 per cent, while operating rooms and ERs in the region are worse, as low as 35 per cent staffed.

“We have many floors that are actually closed because we don’t have staffing. We’re lacking staffing and laboratories. Any service you can name, I can assure you that we are lacking staffing there,” he said. “The MRI in Gatineau is closing in two weeks; Maniwaki’s radiology is closed down at eight o’clock in the evening. They’re amputating every arm of the system in order to save the lungs and the heart.” 

He says the Outaouais’ healthcare problems can be solved with a simple solution: money. According to Bonneville, the technicians leaving Hull are heading to Ontario, where they can make $30,000 more per year in salary. A recent report from The Outaouais Development Observatory, an organization dedicated to researching and collecting data regarding the region’s economic development, revealed that the region needs $180 million in healthcare funding to be on par with other regions in Quebec. 

“The solution is 100 per cent in the hands of the Quebec government,” says Bonneville. He says he’s calculated that since the CAQ government took power in 2018, it has saved a billion dollars in funding that should have gone to the Outaouais for healthcare. 

Bonneville says he’s also aware of three family doctors who will be leaving Wakefield clinics by the end of the summer, and says that their departure will affect “thousands” of patients. The radiology department in Wakefield was also on the chopping block, but will be spared for now, says Bonneville. However, hours for radiology in Wakefield have also been reduced to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This means that a patient needing an x-ray after 8 p.m. would have to go to Gatineau and, if needed, transferred back to Hull for treatment. 

Watchdogs decry Santé Québec

Health watchdogs in the area say they are concerned about the coming months as the CAQ rolls out its centralized health network, Santé Québec.

The new system will centralize Quebec’s health network and remove key decision-making roles from doctors and healthcare professionals working on the ground. 

“Give the locals the power,” says Vigi Santé spokesperson Marcel Chartrand. “And give them the budget to do it. They know the community. They know the needs.

Decentralize the whole thing. The manager at the CHSLD in Masham does not need to go to Gatineau and plead for what they need. Gatineau will say, ‘Based on the priorities of the other regions, we’re going to say no.’ It’s not right.”

Dr. Peter Bonneville, an ER doctor in the region for over 30 years and the head of the Outaouais Health Council, agrees with Chartrand and argues that Quebec’s new Santé Québec is going backward.

“My main concern right now is that doctors in general have been losing any say in a lot of the decisions that are being taken in healthcare,” says Bonneville. “I can assure you that all medical associations in Quebec are very, very concerned about the fact that the new law, once it is put forward, is getting doctors even farther away from the decision process.” 

In an email to the Low Down April 22, the province’s Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, said that measures are being deployed in the “short, medium and long term to ensure the service.” 

The ministry wrote that it is offering signing bonuses worth $20,000 for technicians looking to work in the region. The government is also offering $40,000 bonuses for new CEGEP grads who commit to working in the region. 

“This is a worrying situation, and we are monitoring it very closely with the Outaouais MNAs and the regional minister, Mathieu Lacombe,” wrote the ministry. 

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