Montreal emergency rooms overcrowded as holidays come to a close

As the holiday season comes to a close, emergency rooms across Montreal are operating significantly above capacity.

The Jewish General Hospital reported it was running at 167 per cent capacity Saturday morning. The Lakeshore and Royal Victoria Hospitals didn't fare much better, running at 164 and 142 per cent, respectively.

That's partly because people don't know if their local clinics are open during the holidays, so they come to the ER, according to Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja, the associate director of emergency medicine at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

"We've tried to hire more nurses to help deal with the over capacity," he said. "We've also opened up extra beds."

In an effort to ease overcrowding, the province opened 55 winter clinics to tackle seasonal issues like the flu. 26 are in the Montreal area.

But many of them were closed during the holidays — defeating the purpose, according to patients' rights advocate Paul Brunet.

"What about us? Do we stop paying income taxes during the holidays? No," Brunet said. 

"It's an essential service that we, I think, should have the right to expect to be the best and available during the holidays."

Saluja said if one has a cold or flu with no fever, unless they have other underlying conditions such as asthma, they should not go to the emergency room.

People are encouraged to call Info-Santé at 811 to speak to a nurse if they are considering going to the ER for cold and flu symptoms.