More people live in Quebec’s Laurentians, but its healthcare system can’t keep up

Donna Anber loves living in the Laurentians.

The area, located about 150 kilometers northwest of Montreal, is idyllic: rolling hills of thick green forests and lakes, mountains dotted with small towns and cabins built for long weekends away from the city.

“The quality of life here is incredible. I wouldn’t change that for the world,” Anber said from her home in Sainte-Adèle, Que.

But now she is considering leaving. There is only one reason: health care.

After years of struggling with full walk-in clinics, follow-ups around town and hospitals routinely operating at overcapacity, Anber said she would likely move.

“You can’t access services. Our walk-in clinics ⁠ – that’s a joke,” she told CBC News.

“I’m 57. I’m in good health…but later on, I’m not sure I’ll get the same services I need.”

She’s not the only one to notice what many see as a critical problem in the cottage country. Municipalities and doctors say that as the population of the Laurentians has grown, funding for the region’s health care system has not kept pace, leaving residents in dire straits.

According to census data, the population of the Laurentians is growing rapidly. About 50,000 people have moved to the area since 2016 alone ⁠— a population increase of 7.9%. (The Quebec average was 4.1 percent.)

“I see nothing is changing,” Anber said. “It’s only getting worse.”

A growing population

It was a snowy Friday afternoon in December when Peggy Drennan of Sainte-Anne-des-Lacs developed a hernia that required emergency surgery.

Her family doctor told her to go to the emergency room, but when they called ahead, they learned that there was no surgeon on call at the Laurentian Hospital in Sainte-Agathe. -des-Monts.

Faced with the idea of ​​trying her luck at another hospital in the area, Drennan decided to take another route: she drove across the provincial border to Hawkesbury, Ontario, more than 80 kilometers away.

While Drennan said she thinks the quality of health care in the Laurentians is “fantastic” when it can be obtained, she said the problem is the difficulty of access.

Dr. Simon-Pierre Landry, an emergency physician at Laurentian Hospital, said it was a problem that had been developing for years.

“Hospitals weren’t designed to accommodate such a large population,” he said. “We used to see surges in the summer and at Christmas. But now it’s all year round.”

Emergency physician Dr. Simon-Pierre Landry says funding for the region’s health system is not enough to meet the needs of the burgeoning population. (Radio-Canada)

Some regions have been hit harder than others. The city of Mirabel has seen its population grow by 21% in five years, an increase of nearly 11,000 people.

Even small town populations are exploding, with the tiny village of Gore ⁠— with a population of 1,904 ⁠— in 2016 growing by 19.9%.

And it’s not slowing down. According to a provincial statistics agency reportthe population of the Laurentians is expected to increase by 20% by 2041, adding approximately 127,000 people to the region.

But these figures do not take into account the holidaymakers who come every year. Anber, a full-time resident, said some towns actually double in size during the holidays.

“If you’re up for the summer at your summer cottage, you get sick, you don’t go back to Montreal to do it or from wherever you are. You go to consult here,” she said. “Have you had a skiing accident? You will be cared for here.

“It’s not taken into consideration,” she said.

To make matters worse for the healthcare system, the population is also aging rapidly. This same report estimates that the proportion of residents aged 65 and over will almost double, increasing by about 73%.

“We know it’s not getting better…and we don’t think the government understands how acute the problems are,” Landry said.

“It’s been a problem for years, but now it’s critical.”

Quebec AM9:13Overcrowded emergency rooms increase surgery delays in the Laurentians

Laurentian hospital emergency rooms are overcrowded and are currently operating at 150% capacity. This has resulted in an already long waiting list for surgeries in the area. To learn more about the situation in the region, guest host Shawn Lyons talks with Dr. Pierre-André Clermont, head of the surgery department at the CISSS des Laurentides. 9:13

A chronic lack of funding

Along with other health professionals and local elected officials, Landry formed the Coalition Santé Laurentides, a coalition demanding an increase in health care spending by the Quebec government.

According to information obtained by CBC News, only about 5% of the budget of the Ministry of Health is allocated to the Laurentians, while the region now represents more than 7% of the population of the province, not counting vacationers.

“We’re not asking for a cancer neurosurgery center,” Landry said. “We ask for the essentials.

Hôpital Saint-Jérôme, in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, often operates at overcapacity. (Radio-Canada)

He said the Quebec government could not afford to wait, especially with the slowness of the health care system.

“That’s what worries me. It’s already critical, and because nothing is happening right now, it means that in three years we will be in the same place,” he said.

CBC contacted the Department of Health for a statement but did not receive a response.

Overall, Landry said the situation with new residents and an aging population, coupled with the pandemic and years of chronic underfunding, has created a “perfect storm.”

Looking for health care outside

Anber and Drennan have the same advice for anyone considering moving to the Laurentians: if you want to do so, be sure to keep your doctors in town.

Anber said she kept her family doctor and all her specialists in Montreal and had already moved her 87-year-old mother to the city so she had better access to health care.

“If there’s anything that needs to be done, I’ll ask to be referred to Montreal, because the waiting lists and delays to get in here are crazy,” Anber said.

But Drennan worries about the ripple effect it could have. His daughter and grandchildren also recently moved to Montreal.

“They can’t find a pediatrician. They can’t find a GP. They don’t find it easy in town either,” she said. “Moving to the Laurentians and keeping these municipal services only exacerbates the problem there as well.

Dr. Landry said he was saddened to learn that residents are choosing to go to Montreal or Hawkesbury rather than their local hospitals.

He said it’s not a choice for everyone in the Laurentians: many can’t afford to drive and Francophones often don’t see English-speaking hospitals in Ontario or Montreal as an option. .

“There’s a resignation that’s very sad, in terms of patients not hoping things can get better,” he said.

“I still think things can improve. We can transform the ship.”