BY Qasim Warraich

With the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe, the virus could have a serious impact on Quebec’s faltering emergency healthcare system.

The province has ranked last in terms of wait times across the country for several years now. Quebec ERs often operate at over 100 percent capacity.

“We have an underfunded healthcare system across the country, so when we have a pandemic like this we see the consequences of that,” says Ethan Cox, political analyst and co-founder of “We start to need resources that aren’t there. As for why Quebec is worse than other parts of the country, that’s hard to answer. We’ve had our own unique histories with healthcare. We triggered a serious shortage of nurses that we’re still dealing with the consequences of when Lucien Bouchard decided to stop training new nurses 20-plus years ago.”

Medical mask and equipment

Quebec is dealing with a shortage of nurses, a problem for the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

However, a shortage of resources and personnel isn’t the only issue plaguing the current system. As patient rights advocate Paul Brunet explains, a power struggle between government and doctor’s unions has interfered with creating an efficient healthcare system.

“Certainly we find there’s a problem with who is in charge,” says Brunet. “The problem is the unions, the unions of doctors are very taxing on the system. As the government, you don’t have full power on what you think should be better organized… When that power is in the hands of others, instead of the ones who are in charge and accountable, of course you have some differences between what you want to do and what you can do.”

“It is certainly fair to say unions have contributed to the better well-being of the employees,” adds Brunet. “As we speak now, the doctors of Quebec are among the most, if not the most well-paid in the country with productivity not being as high as the other provinces, so [this indicates] a problem right there.”

The detrimental effects of such an overburdened system are multiplied when a pandemic occurs. The most important aspect in fighting back against such an occurrence is ‘flattening the curve’ and avoiding overtaxing our hospitals. But that’s difficult in an already taxed system.

“If you think about the emergency room or any other facility, you have input, you have people coming in and you have people going out,” says Dr. Gerald Fried, former Surgeon-In-Chief at the McGill University Health Centre. “If the flow of people coming in exceeds the capacity to discharge them somewhere, then people are going to accumulate in the emergency room.”

An ambulance in Montreal

Quebec ERs often operate at over 100 capacity. Photo by Photo by GTA Emergency_Photography from Flickr.

In spite of all these dangers, there are also potential long-term benefits to come from the pandemic. One such improvement is the online delivery of healthcare to patients with minor injuries.

“Some elements that were on the table already will probably be pushed a little faster,” says Brunet. “Like distance and television medical assistance. You have that for far-away regions or places already here in Canada if not elsewhere in Europe. So you’re just promoting it faster and in greater centres.”

This has positive implications that span further than just the ability to provide health-care to patients far away. It’s allowed for more space in emergency rooms for those in need or urgent care. Here in Quebec, we’ve seen reduced emergency room wait-times since the pandemic has taken hold.

The pandemic has also highlighted chronic weaknesses in the healthcare system.

“I think this is a crisis from which we’re going to emerge differently,” says Cox. “We see what the consequences are of decades of underfunding our public healthcare system here. So I hope we come out of this understanding the importance of proper funding and universal public healthcare.”

Main photo by Cristina Sanza.
Published June 9, 2020.