Equitable healthcare in Pontiac: challenges, progress, & urgent call for reform

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Pontiac Community Hospital

Tashi Farmilo
Local Journalism Initiative

PONTIAC – Dr. Thomas O’Neill, a Shawville physician and assistant professor of family medicine at McGill University, has raised serious concerns regarding compromised healthcare services in the Pontiac, blaming the Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais’ (CISSSO) centralized administration.

In a letter to the Pontiac Journal, Dr. O’Neill highlighted the inadequacies and administrative oversight affecting healthcare services in the region since the amalgamation of the CSSS du Pontiac with five other hospitals in 2015; the closure of obstetrics services, relocation of specific medical procedures to the city, and the absence of specialists in fields like gynecology, gastroenterology, and urology.

Dr. O’Neill’s revelations illustrate the deepening healthcare crisis in the Pontiac and his call to action underscores a universal struggle for equitable healthcare in rural regions globally. “If rural areas provide the food, the hydro, the wood, are they not entitled also to basic services? We’ve seen services progressively deteriorate, not improve,” he argues. He compares the current scenario to the efficient administrative structure and balanced budget of CSSS du Pontiac before the merger.

Dr. O’Neill places particular emphasis on geographical equity and the ethical obligation to rural areas, urging for the implementation of practical and environmentally sustainable solutions.

Nicole Boucher-Larivière, deputy director of health services at CISSSO, said recruitment and retention of health workers is significantly challenging in the Pontiac; proximity to the national capital creates competition for salary and bilingualism requirements add another layer of complexity. However, she said adequate care is available in the area, stressing the importance of working together and pooling resources to maintain, and potentially increase, the provision of various local healthcare services.

There are glimpses of positive developments in local healthcare, Boucher-Larivière shared. She emphasized that local management initiatives are being reinforced, with new proximity directors overseeing various healthcare functions in the Pontiac, ensuring every program, be it for children or the elderly, works in unison to offer better services. She revealed that robust recruitment efforts have allowed for a full schedule of ER doctors until March 2024, a feat seldom achieved previously.

Apart from health service issues, the Pontiac Community Hospital’s acute care unit is currently battling a significant outbreak of COVID-19, with the elderly particularly affected in the Outaouais. Rigorous measures have been instituted, including mandatory hand sanitation and wearing masks. The public is urged to follow these guidelines meticulously when visiting the hospital and individuals showing symptoms of respiratory infection are asked to defer visits. The hospital’s outbreak is attributed primarily to the resumption of regular activities post-holidays and more indoor contact in workplaces and schools.