Health ministry experts to inspect troubled Lakeshore Hospital ER

“I would say it’s the same, no improvement,” a source said of the emergency room. “It’s very frustrating.”

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A team of Quebec Health Ministry experts is to descend on the emergency room of Lakeshore General Hospital on Tuesday to determine whether it’s in compliance with government directives, the Montreal Gazette has learned.

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The visit by the team of experts, known by its acronym STAT (standing in French for “soutien, transformation, accès, terrain”), is to come after an independent investigation by the ministry into a rising number of deaths at the Lakeshore ER.

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Health Minister Christian Dubé launched that probe after an investigative series by the Gazette at the end of February that documented six patient deaths in the Lakeshore ER that clinical sources insisted were preventable and were caused by systemic neglect amid chronic overcrowding, lax supervision and broken medical equipment, among other problems.

The STAT team already visited the Lakeshore ER in June 2021 and April 2022. During those visits, the experts raised concerns about so-called trains of patients on stretchers lining the hallways throughout the ER, warning that this posed a risk for the spread of infections and breached patient confidentiality.

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Last August, Najia Hachimi-Idrissi, then interim executive director of the West Island health authority in charge of the Lakeshore, ordered the removal of all the “trains” from the corridors by December 2022. Nine months later, however, trains of stretcher patients still line the hallways of the ER when it becomes severely congested.

In its series, the Gazette reported the ER suicide of a retired Sûreté du Québec police officer in 2019. That patient was left unsupervised on a stretcher in one of the trains in a corridor for 14 hours before he hung himself in a nearby cubicle.

On Thursday, a public affairs official with the health authority defended the practice of keeping the trains of stretcher patients.

“It’s true that the current volume is higher than the capacity” of the ER, Hélène Bergeron-Gamache of the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal stated in an email.

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“We are working with the (ministry) to find permanent solutions to improve the situation. Our priority is to find solutions to improve patient access and safely increase emergency room capacity. Announcements may follow in due course.”

Meanwhile, ER staff are anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation by Francine Dupuis, a retired health-care manager whom Dubé appointed to look into problems at the Lakeshore.

Antoine de la Durantaye, Dubé’s press attaché, said work on Dupuis’s investigation is “ongoing at this time. We will be able to give an update in due time.”

Since the Gazette series, the Lakehore has repaired a chest compression device, known as the LUCAS machine, that sometimes broke down in the middle of performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation on a patient.

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But a source noted that’s the only noticeable improvement that has been made in the past few months.

“I would say it’s the same, no improvement,” said the source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

“It’s very frustrating.”

Lakeshore Hospital annex
The annex attached to the Lakeshore General Hospital on Feb. 27, 2023. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

The Lakeshore used to include in its ER count about a dozen patients each day who were transferred to an annex. But it stopped doing so last month, which has resulted in lower ER numbers.

Asked to explain why the Lakeshore no longer includes the annex patients in its ER tallies, Bergeron-Gamache replied that “annex patients are all assessed and admitted (to hospital). They are therefore monitored by (internal medicine doctors), not by emergency physicians.”

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In addition to the independent probe and the STAT inspections, a mediator produced a 300-page report last October that warned the Lakeshore is a “ticking time bomb.” Yet the Lakeshore is not the only ER in Quebec that is under tremendous pressure. In fact, the province is beset by an unprecedented ER crisis, largely as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused burnout among thousands of health professionals.

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