ER overcrowding surges in the greater Montreal area


Emergency rooms across greater Montreal were bursting at the seams this weekend as people crammed ERs with the flu, gastroenteritis as well as injuries from falls.

By Saturday afternoon, ER occupancy rates soared to 126 per cent in the Montérégie, 116 per cent in Laval, 111 per cent in the Laurentians, 101 per cent in Lanaudière and 98 per cent in Montreal, according to the Index Santé website that tracks such data.

In Montreal, the Jewish General Hospital reported the highest occupancy rate at 157 per cent of its capacity on Saturday, while the Montreal Children’s Hospital was at 217 per cent of capacity on Sunday evening. Overall, 15 of the 21 Montreal hospitals were overcrowded, and eight still overcrowded on Sunday.

In Montérégie, the Hôtel-Dieu de Sorel reported the highest occupancy rate on Saturday, at 171 per cent. The Hôpital du Suroît in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield was also hard hit, with a rate of 166 per cent, followed by Châteauguay’s Anna-Laberge Hospital at 138 per cent. Those numbers came down by Sunday evening to 94 per cent, 138 per cent and 106 per cent, respectively.

Jade St-Jean, a spokesperson for the CISSS la Montérégie-Ouest health authority, noted hospitals are also accepting “a very high number of ambulances.”

“We’re talking about falls and accidents,“ St-Jean said, describing the kinds of cases the ERs are treating. “We’re starting to see some cases of gastroenteritis and the beginning of influenza as well. It is combination of all these cases that is causing the increase.”

The CISSS la Montérégie-Ouest issued a statement on Saturday urging the public to consider five alternative options before going to an ER.

First and foremost, it is recommended people contact Info-Santé at 811 to report symptoms to a nurse. Second, people are encouraged to speak to their pharmacist about their symptoms. The third option would be to consult a family doctor. The fourth choice would be to visit a walk-in clinic. As a fifth option, one could head out to one of the so-called winter clinics the health ministry announced this month.

St-Jean insisted only “cases of significant complications” are suitable for the emergency room. She warned people in otherwise good health who are suffering from flu symptoms will not be considered urgent.

In contrast, “people who are vulnerable, the elderly who are over 75, can have complications. For a healthy adult, the home remains the best place.”

In the Montérégie-Est, the ER at Hôtel-Dieu de Sorel was also overflowing with cases.

“When it’s cold outside, sometimes it’s heart problems, sometimes it’s respiratory problems,” spokesperson Sylvain Dubé said of the ER cases. “It’s a bit of everything, but we don’t have anything specific yet. The bulk of the flu cases has not started. Usually, it’s after the holidays that you see that, when people shake hands and kiss each other (at dinner parties).”