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For the Lachine community and its health-care workers, changes set to take place Tuesday night at the Lachine Hospital could be a matter of life and death.
Last week, the health authority that oversees the hospital issued a statement saying as of Tuesday, ambulances with patients needing emergency care would be redirected to other hospitals, and the ER would be closed entirely between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
The McGill University Health Centre described the change as part of a planned reorganization of services that will allow resources to be better distributed throughout the hospital network, and said the change will allow staff at the Lachine Hospital to continue to manage critical patients quickly.
“Contrary to what they say, this is not an improvement,” said Dr. Paul Saba, former president of the Lachine Hospital council of physicians, while standing outside the hospital alongside dozens of community members and staff. “Lachine Hospital will cease being a community hospital. It will become an ambulatory care centre. Studies show in medical literature that the closure of community emergency rooms increases the mortality of the population who live in proximity, especially for severe illnesses such as heart attacks and severe infections.”
Josée Théoret, an emergency nurse for 39 years, was among hospital staff present Tuesday to denounce the changes. She said that over the previous few nights alone, her team saved the life of a nine-month-old who was having heart problems and delivered a baby whose mother had shown up just in time to give birth.
“There are plenty of examples like this that I could give,” she said. “Where we’re going here, I have no idea, but I can tell you one thing: The Lachine population should protest. Because if you have a heart attack across the street, you’re going to wait half an hour for an ambulance. But if you cross the street (to the hospital), I’ll save you in a heartbeat. But we won’t be here anymore.”
Several Lachine residents showed up Tuesday to denounce the changes, protest signs in hand.
“Every second counts, do not reduce emergency hours,” read one of the signs.
Closing overnight emergency services and turning away ambulances in Lachine will indeed result in longer travel and wait times for other hospitals, Saba explained.
“This means that a patient could be sicker by the time they are seen at another hospital. They could even die,” he said. “Rather than improving the services to the population, the MUHC is putting the population at risk.”
For Lachine resident Carole Bouchard, the changes are appalling.
“For three years, our emergency wards all over Montreal were bursting at the seams, right?” she said. “Now they’re deciding to close a hospital ER? What is the sense of that? There’s no sense to that.”
The hospital first announced it would close overnight services in October 2021, citing staff shortages. Since then, operating hours have shifted several times, as has the hospital’s admission of patients arriving by ambulance.
On Tuesday, Saba said there is no shortage of doctors or nurses at the Lachine Hospital. It’s also able to function despite a limited number of respiratory therapists, and several have expressed interest in joining the team, he said.
“Is the real objective of the MUHC to take our human resources at Lachine and direct them downtown? I don’t have an answer to that question,” Saba said. “In the context where all the emergency rooms in Montreal are overcrowded, how can we afford to restrict access to the emergency room of the Lachine Hospital?”
Lachine resident Paul Hanash said he has been to the hospital multiple times to denounce the reduction of services, citing concerns that all signs point to the eventual closure of the hospital as a whole.
“If we don’t hold our ground now, who is going to hold it?” he asked, a sign reading “save lives, reopen our emergency room” in hand.
“I live in Lachine and I’ve used this hospital in the last couple of weeks,” Hanash added. “If I’m a young, active, healthy guy and I’m using this, what about the older people? The older population? They need it as well, so it’s really important to keep it open.”
The MUHC did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. MUHC president and executive director Dr. Lucie Opatrny, however, has said the institute will evaluate the hospital’s mission within the network. Despite the reduction in services, the Lachine Hospital is undergoing a $200-million upgrade.
“We would like to reaffirm our commitment to our staff and our population,” Opatrny said. “We are actively pursuing our recruitment efforts, and we wish to offer both hospital staff and new recruits attractive and stimulating employment opportunities.”
But in Lachine, people are worried.
“This is a community hospital, and we need it,” Hanash said.
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