SHAWVILLE – It appears expectant mothers hoping to deliver at the Pontiac Community Hospital (PCH) can’t catch a break this year. Two of the obstetrics (OBS) department’s five doctors will be leaving permanently in late December, adding to complications the unit already faces due to a shortage of nurses that has caused a number of service interruptions, including one from November 11-13.
Josée Filion, director general of the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO), held a press conference in Gatineau, November 6, to detail the situation and solutions.
The shifts normally held by the two departing doctors will be covered until the end of January through schedule rearrangement, but CISSSO is scrambling to find replacements after that.
Filion said CISSSO’s goal is to maintain the PCH’s OBS department and they are working on several solutions for the short and medium term: international recruitment efforts; hiring two people tasked solely with recruitment for the PCH; reviewing the hiring process to reflect thelinguistic reality of the Pontiac (bilingual interviews and exams); hiring two local managers to oversee operations at the PCH, CLSCs and community outreach; and launching a major recruitment campaign (social media, visiting local schools, etc).
After seven OBS interruptions this year at the PCH, mostly in October, CISSSO announced on October 24, amid a six-day interruption, that two nurses from the Jewish General Hospital in Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal would work full-time alternating shifts at the PCH until the end of November.
On top of three interruptions in general surgery that consequently impacted OBS— the most recent from November 8-11—at least two other OBS interruptions were narrowly diverted at the PCH, including one that would have lasted a month if CISSSO hadn’t received the help of a team of midwives from la Maison de Naissance in Gatineau.
The PCH’s OBS unit currently has five nurses instead of the 12 normally required to operate the department. In the Outaouais, it appears the PCH has been more severely affected than other hospitals, although nursing shortages exist province-wide.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
According to Filion, the two doctors are leaving for personal and professional
reasons not related to the OBS situation at the PCH, something Pontiac Voice, a local citizens’ group, doesn’t accept.
“According to information from reliable sources, the lack of support received over the past few years led them to make this decision,” the group said in a press release. The names of the doctors haven’t been released.
“We can’t blame doctors, nurses and other professionals for being so upset; they’ve been keeping our services alive for years. Pontiac doctors have been sounding the alarm about recruitment for a long time, but CISSSO administration is in a reactive, not proactive mode … The new administration is trying hard to patch up the services, but we’re still waiting to receive the concrete actions promised by Health Minister Danielle McCann.” said Josey Bouchard, Pontiac Voice spokesperson.
An easy solution
Pontiac MNA André Fortin said there is a simple solution to ensuring continuity of OBS and surgical services in rural hospitals that rests in McCann’s hands: signing an agreement with the Québec Federation of Specialist Doctors.
“This deal would ensure there are no breaks of service when local doctors aren’t available by imposing an
obligation on surgeons from Gatineau to replace them. The Minister assured me in March that she was days away from signing this deal. Since then, it’s been radio silence. I’ve asked the Minister at least 10 times in the Assembly about it: no answer. The Federation doesn’t understand the holdup either,” he explained.
“Over my dead body will obstetrics be closed here. We will fight to maintain this
service should it come to that,” he added.
In early November, the Federation of Doctors publicly questioned why McCann
hasn’t signed the deal. In recent reports, McCann said an agreement would be signed soon. It involves a $45 million funding envelope, which the Confédération des syndicats nationaux Outaouais (CSN Outaouais) union said is insufficient to address the staff shortage crisis.
“Arrêtez… de nous crinquer!”
Dozens of CISSSO employees gathered outside the Gatineau hospital, November 8, encouraging CISSSO to assign urgency to the problem, do more to solve
it, and to stop “working employees like robots” under the slogan “Arrêtez… de nous crinquer !” (“Stop winding us up” [like children’s toys]).
“From August to October, CISSSO hired 155 people but 176 departed. Staff shortages are increasing, putting enormous pressure on employees who are already overworked and exhausted. As a result, more and more people are falling during combat. Since July 2019, CSN has intervened in more than 100 CNESST cases and more than 60 salary insurance cases,” said the union in a press release.
“The problem is simple: the network can no longer attract and retain staff with insufficient salaries and poor working conditions,” said Jeff Begley, president of the
La Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux