The shortage of staff in hospitals in Abitibi-Témiscamingue is forcing citizens to turn to Ontario for health care, revealed a study published Thursday.

In 2019, nearly 2,400 residents of Abitibi-Témiscamingue had to travel to Ontario to obtain health care inaccessible in the region, according to the Institute for Socioeconomic Research and Information (IRIS).

These health care accessibility issues date back to well before the pandemic, the researchers say. The citizens of the region are faced with, among other things, long wait times to consult a medical specialist and repeated interruptions of service, and have been for years.

“In addition to forcing many residents of the region to travel hundreds of kilometers to get to major hospitals, such a reality can also encourage others to give up certain care,” lamented Krystof Beaucaire, associate researcher. at IRIS and co-author of the study.

Worrying service interruptions

In the summer of 2022, all emergency rooms in the Temiscaming-Kipawa region had to close their doors for the night, even though they are the main point of access to health care for residents of the area.

However, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 72% of emergency room visits require first-line care (normally provided by family doctors or clinics, among others), compared to 53% in Quebec.

“Access to health care in Abitibi-Témiscamingue is not only problematic, but the situation is also bleaker than in Quebec on average or than in certain regions with similar characteristics,” the researcher pointed out.

A glaring lack of staff

The ratio of licensed practical nurses per 100,000 inhabitants is three times higher on average in Quebec than in certain regions of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The number of medical specialists and paramedics is also well below the Quebec average, the study revealed.

“We already know that the average number of nurses and medical specialists is insufficient in Quebec to meet the needs of the population. That this number is lower in Abitibi-Témiscamingue is all the more problematic given the extent of the territory to be covered,” mentioned Bertrand Schepper, researcher at IRIS and co-author of the study.

The aging of the population is particularly worrying in the region, since there are far fewer people of working age in Abitibi-Témiscamingue.

A forgotten report

In 2019, a report on accessibility to obstetrics and birth services offered several recommendations for health care in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. However, this has been “forgotten” by the government in place, according to the FIQ-Interprofessional Health Care Union of Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FIQ-SISSAT).

“There is an urgent need to restore the balance in the region with regard to the supply of health services. This file goes well beyond the local management of establishments and must be taken care of by the future Minister of Health himself. Now that conclusive and objective data have been put forward in this study, will the next government finally be able to recognize that the region has specific needs? asked the president of the FIQ-SISSAT, Jean-Sébastien Blais.

The CISSS is working hard

Emilie Parent-Bouchard

The Abitibi-Témiscamingue Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS-AT) is well aware of the labor shortage in the areas it serves, with 250 nurses and 75 licensed practical nurses are currently missing.

This shortfall will amount to 550 nurses and 191 nursing assistants by 2026-2027, anticipates the organization, which is multiplying contingency plans, closures of service points and recruitment strategies to optimize the use of nursing staff. .

“We are working to minimize the impact for our population by preserving all priority and essential services in each of the territories,” said Caroline Roy, CEO of the CISSS-AT, when we questioned her, Wednesday, the day before. the publication of the IRIS report, during a press briefing on the organization of services and the recruitment of personnel.

“We know that mobility is required for certain specialized services distributed throughout our territory. These are specialized medical services for which people are used to traveling,” she added, referring in particular to orthopedic services, only offered in Amos, which can represent a trip of more than 300 km for a resident of the town of Temiscaming.

It also notes that patient transfers from Abitibi-Témiscamingue to major centres, particularly for access to tertiary services, i.e. highly

specialized, will always be necessary since these services require a level of expertise and equipment superior to what is available in the region.

“The region, what it needs, is to have recognition of its particular realities, with the social and economic context that we have within our region. We have already had different responses or specific programs for our region through access to certain pilot projects or certain specific measures. Will there be other answers? The future will tell us,” she replied when we asked her about the possibility of granting Abitibi-Témiscamingue a special status.

Abitibi-Témiscamingue: easier to get treatment in Ontario, according to IRIS