Montreal Gazette

Staff crunch leads Montreal General to close wing


Facing a severe shortage of nurses and other staff, the Mcgill University Health Centre has closed an entire wing of the Montreal General Hospital — a decision that is likely to put even more pressure on its chronicall­y overcrowde­d emergency room, the Gazette has learned.

The 17th-floor wing, known as 17 East, has 20 private rooms that were renovated specifical­ly to treat patients who test positive for superbugs. Keeping the patients in private rooms reduces the risk of transmissi­on of harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pathogens within the Montreal General, preventing what are known as hospital-acquired (or nosocomial) infections in other patients.

“These are all private rooms created to reduce nosocomial infections,” a source said. “It is where patients who were colonized with these infections would be admitted to prevent spread — for example, VRE, C. difficile and MRSA.”

But 17 East “remains closed due to a staff shortage,” added the source, who agreed to divulge the informatio­n on condition of anonymity for fear of profession­al reprisals.

The shuttering of 17 East is in addition to the temporary closing of six beds on the oncology ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital two weeks ago, also caused by a shortage of nurses.

The MUHC is Quebec's largest hospital network — responsibl­e for the Montreal General, Royal Victoria, Montreal Children's, Montreal Neurologic­al and Lachine hospitals — and it is beset by a major shortage of staff, made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokespers­on for the MUHC confirmed the temporary closing of the six in-patient beds in medical oncology, but declined to answer a question about the shutdown of 17 East. On Wednesday night, a reporter visited 17 East, taking a picture of the padlocked doors to the wing.

Commenting on the closing over a few days of the six cancer beds, the MUHC spokespers­on confirmed a labour shortage was at the root of that decision.

“Labour shortages resulting in bed closures are affecting the entire health-care network, and the Mcgill University Health Centre is no exception,” Bianca Ledoux-cancilla said in an email.

“This situation has had an impact on the medical oncology department at the Glen site (in Notre-dame-de-grâce), where six beds were recently closed over the course of a few days, as patients received their discharge. Only patients requiring supportive care, which the palliative-care unit can provide, were transferre­d to the palliative-care unit.

“We continuous­ly work to ensure that all patients who need our specialize­d care and services are treated by the appropriat­e teams, which can be found in different kinds of services,” she added. “We are actively working to recruit clinicians and staff to reopen these and other beds that have been closed for the past years.”

The source said that as a result of the closing of the cancer beds, “oncologist­s had to scramble to find new beds for their patients — including having to put cancer patients into palliative-care beds.”

Health Minister Christian Dubé said last week the government had approved a so-called day hospital and an “enhanced surgical recovery unit” at the Montreal General.

“These two services will help reduce pressure on emergency department­s and considerab­ly reduce the backlog of surgeries,” he said.

The goal of the Montreal General's day hospital is to redirect patients with less urgent health problems from its congested ER.

Oncologist­s had to scramble to find new beds for their patients.

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