Fill-in team formed to help staffing crisis at rural Quebec hospitals

The Quebec government and the province’s federation of medical specialists have signed an agreement they say should limit service interruptions in hospitals across the province. 

The new agreement will increase access to obstetrics and other specialists in rural communities such as Shawville in the Outaouais as of this coming Sunday.

It will allow teams of specialists to fly into communities quickly, and create new positions that allow medical professionals to temporarily fill in gaps for smaller towns.

“For people who are living in remote areas, we think that with [this] agreement we’re going to be able to [ease] the shortage of care that they had in the past,” said Diane Francoeur, president of the federation.

According to Francoeur, there’s a shortage of 600 specialists needed cover the province. 

“It’s not going to be perfect … But we’re going to work very hard now with the minister of health to make sure that we are going to have [obstetrics] and a general surgeon and an anesthesiologist in as many hospitals has we can across the province,” she said.

Diane Francoeur, president of the province’s federation of medical specialists, said there’s a shortage of 600 specialists needed cover the entirety of Quebec and provide 24/7 hour coverage. (Radio-Canada)

Since September, eight service interruptions have occurred in obstetrics at the Pontiac Hospital in Shawville, forcing pregnant women to be redirected to Gatineau Hospital.

The agreement targets about 30 health facilities in the province, with Health Minister Danielle McCann also mentioning Maria and Amqui on the Gaspé peninsula and La Malbaie north of Quebec City.

“What is planned is that when there is a shortage in a hospital in obstetrics in Quebec … there will be planned teams of obstetricians who will be able to come to cover these hospitals,” she told Radio-Canada in French.

Will it help to fill the gap left by two doctors who plan to leave their jobs at the Pontiac Hospital’s already understaffed obstetrics department? 9:15

The same will be true for other specialists, such as those working in general surgery. 

Although it’s difficult to ask specialists with full schedules to cancel appointments so they can be on-call in remote areas, Francoeur said they will be compensated for travelling on short notice.  

‘It’s not going to be perfect’

While not a long-term solution, the director of professional services at the Outaouais region’s health agency CISSSO said the announcement was a positive step. 

“Clearly, it adds an extra safety net. It’s going to be another argument for recruiting new medical and nursing staff,” said Dr. Nicolas Gillot.

Similarly, the Quebec Liberal Party health critic and MNA for Pontiac André Fortin, said the agreement addresses some of the province’s issues but criticized how long it took to happen

Andre Fortin, then a cabinet minister in the previous Liberal government, tables legislation at the legislature in Quebec City Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Patrick Guay, president of the syndicat des professionnelles en soins de l’Outaouais union, said the agreement should help lessen the burden on Shawville nurses, who have delivered babies when the birthing unit is closed. 

“I think McCann is proving that she wants to get things done, that she wants to change things,” said Denis Marcheterre, president of Action Santé Outaouais, which advocates for improved health care in the region.

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