Coroner investigating death of 84-year-old woman in Montreal ER

The Quebec coroner's office confirms an 84-year-old woman died at the Jewish General Hospital's ER in November.              (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)
The Quebec coroner's office confirms an 84-year-old woman died at the Jewish General Hospital's ER in November. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)

The Quebec coroner's office has opened an investigation into the death of an 84-year-old woman at the Jewish General Hospital's emergency room in Montreal last month.

The coroner confirms the woman was taken to the ER Nov. 26 where she died, as first reported by Global News.

The coroner's office refused to comment or give details, as the investigation is ongoing, but said a detailed report shedding light on the causes and circumstances of the death will be made public once the investigation is complete.

A coroner can also make recommendations to prevent future similar deaths, said a spokesperson for the coroner.

Swamped ERs

Patient deaths in emergency rooms are relatively rare, but the numbers have risen slightly over the last two years, said Dr. Judy Morris, head of the Quebec Association of Emergency Physicians.

"It's a signal that we must take very seriously," said Morris.

Sometimes, ER staff are unaware of underlying conditions when patients arrive and deaths can happen unexpectedly. Still, death rates in ERs remain below 0.5 per cent, she said.

Many of those who die in emergency rooms likely required care elsewhere before their condition worsened, with a primary care physician or a specialist to keep them stable, said Morris.

"It's worrisome to hear stories like this, to hear stories of patients dying at home waiting for an ambulance, patients dying in ambulances, dying in waiting rooms or dying in higher numbers in the emergency rooms across Canada," she said.

"It tells us maybe we're not able to take care of that demand."

Even before the pandemic hit Montreal hospitals, ERs in the city were operating at near capacity and were often swamped during flu season.

With the increase in the spread of infectious diseases and the shortage of staff — who have quit or are out sick themselves — "it's both hardships hitting us at the same time," said Morris.

"These are all things that have to make us ask, is the system able to answer the needs of the population that require urgent care?"

But Morris sees solutions.

Health-care workers are mobilizing, temporary emergency services have been put in place and the government has created a special committee to tackle the problem.

Still, Morris says the other units in hospitals and other physicians will have to share some weight as "the solution doesn't lie in the emergency rooms [alone]."