Montreal parents who do not have a pediatrician or family doctor for their children will soon be able to call a new hotline to find appropriate medical care for their kids.
But the new phone service, to be launched Monday, does not replace the One Call, One Appointment hotline that was discontinued in April. That service, put in place last September to help ease the overcrowding of emergency rooms, had been available to any parent who needed to find immediate medical attention for their child.
"Individuals like myself and others who are lucky that we have a pediatrician and a family doctor, we still are stuck in the same situation," said Vivien Carli, who started a petition last month calling for the return of the hotline.
"The situation is not going to improve," she said, with a phone service that is not available to everyone who wants to avoid clogging emergency rooms when there is something wrong with their child.
The new hotline will connect callers with their local primary care access point, called a guichet d'accès à la première ligne (GAP), said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of the regional health agency for West-Central Montreal.
Dupuis said calling the GAP hotline won't automatically lead to an appointment with a doctor. A parent could be referred to a nurse-practitioner, a pharmacist, a psychologist or other health-care provider.
"Sometimes, it's another professional who's the best person to answer, not a doctor," Dupuis said. "Doctors are not good at everything."
The hotline number is 514-890-6111. It will operate Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., for the next few months.
Dupuis said the regional health authority plans to roll out a new phone service by Sept. 1 at the latest for anyone in Montreal, of any age, who doesn't have a family doctor.
One Call, One Appointment proved popular
According to the Montreal Children's Hospital, more than 45,000 appointments were scheduled through One Call, One Appointment during its seven months of operation.
Diana Foglia said she used the service seven or eight times between November and March, when her baby had recurrent ear infections.
"He was clearly in pain and uncomfortable, and I needed to see somebody quick," she said. "But as a parent, you don't want to be with a sick child in an emergency room … so the [phone] line was super convenient."
Foglia said she is part of several online parenting groups, and she knows of some parents who have gone as far away as Cornwall or Hawkesbury, in Ontario, to seek medical care, because their family doctors in Montreal were unreachable.
"As parents, we're going through these great lengths to try to do everything for our kids," she said.