The Gatineau Hospital's emergency department will be closed until 4 p.m. on Monday due to a nursing shortage, according to western Quebec's health unit.
Unforeseen absences Friday evening — along with a lack of expertise from those who were working — made it hard to assess patients arriving at the ER, said Josée Filion, general director of Centre intégré de Santé et de Services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO)
"Beyond providing access to care and services, we must above all offer safe and high-quality care to the population," Filion told reporters at a French-language press conference Saturday.
"The situation in which we found ourselves [on Friday] evening did not allow us to get there," she said.
According to the health unit, ambulances will be redirected to the Hull Hospital.
Patients can go either to the Hull Hospital or the Papineau Hospital in Buckingham, although children should be taken to the Gatineau Hospital's ambulatory pediatric centre, the health unit said.
The health unit also suggests booking an appointment with the Médigo Clinic or a family physician or seeing a pharmacist.
In a press release, CISSSO said it was "doing everything to stabilize the situation as quickly as possible."
Serge Gauvreau, deputy director of CISSSO's nursing department, said work is underway to avoid other health centres from being overloaded by the ER's closure.
"Some nurses and nursing assistants will come and lend a hand to their colleagues at the Hull Hospital," he said.
In a French statement, Mathieu Lacombe, the minister responsible for the Outaouais, said the situation is being closely monitored.
"All the options were analyzed before coming to this conclusion," he said.
"The aim is clear: the ER must reopen as quickly as possible, and the teams are working tirelessly on it. In the meantime, no patient will be left behind."
'Not a new problem'
Action Santé Outaouais, a group that advocates for the rights of patients, expressed concern about the latest breakdown in service.
In a letter to Quebec's minister of health and to the minister responsible for the Outaouais region, the group said there was a similar disruption to intensive care at the Gatineau Hospital in September 2020.
"The problem is that it is not the first time that they closed [an] essential services department," Denis Marcheterre, president of the group, told CBC News on Saturday afternoon.
"The lack of nurses is not a new problem. And it's not a problem that will be resolved in a few weeks from now. It's going to take months and years."
Action Santé Outaouais has called on the Quebec government to develop a long-term plan to overcome CISSSO's workforce problems.
Marcheterre said nurses need to have breaks — especially after working through three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic — and worried these sorts of closures could "become the new standard."
"Several solutions have been proposed to different governments ... and there has been not much action," he said.
"What we need now is to go [through] those solutions that have been proposed in the past 10 years or so ... and do something."