#NewsMatters: The National Assembly Report
By Raquel Fletcher
Man’s death raises concerns over ER closures
Town says death was inevitable but preventable
Quebec’s healthcare system is facing a massive labour shortage and the government has either fully or partially closed emergency rooms across the province this fall. Last week, the town of Senneterre said the inevitable – but absolutely preventable – happened as a result of that move: Richard Genest, 65, died after being forced to wait hours to receive urgent care.
His death came after Senneterre had been sounding the alarm about the night-time closure of its emergency room.
Genest came from a large and tight-knit family in Abitibi. His nine brothers and sisters, three children and three grandchildren say he should not have died this way.
“We’re all very close, very, very close. And we’re all very saddened by this and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to overcome it,” said Genest’s younger sister, Theresa Genest. “If our ER was open, he would have been taken in charge and he would still be alive today.”
Last Monday afternoon, Genest started to feel pain in his side. Tuesday night, when the pain had intensified, he called an ambulance. Genest lived within walking distance of the ER in Senneterre, but it has been closing at 4 p.m. since Oct. 18.
Ambulance trips to Val d’Or and Amos
In Genest’s case, he also had to wait for an ambulance that was out on another call. His sister explained that when the ambulance finally came, it followed protocol and took him to Val d’Or, 68 kilometres away. However, doctors at that hospital told him he needed to see a specialist in Amos, an additional 70 kilometres.
“When he got to Amos, he got to the elevator and he died in the elevator,” Theresa Genest explained.
Opposition parties at the National Assembly were outraged to learn the news.
“We said it months ago that things like this could happen and the government did not listen,” Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said last Thursday.
At first, the government refuted the version of events reported in the media and by Genest’s own family.
During Thursday’s Question Period, Premier François Legault said that Health Minister Christian Dubé spoke with the CEO of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue CISSS about the case. The CEO told Dubé that “even if the Senneterre ER, which is an ER in a CLSC, had been open, it wouldn’t have changed what happened,” Legault said.
Dubé told reporters the coroner’s office had already examined the case and determined it didn’t merit an investigation.
Mayor “shocked” about minister’s comments
Senneterre Mayor Nathalie-Ann Pelchat said the town was “shocked” to hear the minister’s comments, but relieved when Thursday afternoon, the coroner announced he would be opening an investigation after all.
“They were waiting for him (in Amos). The operation room was ready. Everyone was there, but he never reached the room,” Pelchat said, adding if Genest could have seen a doctor in Senneterre he might have been sent directly to Amos, thus bypassing the hospital in Val d’Or and saving precious time.
For Genest’s sister, it’s not enough for the coroner to look into her brother’s death - she worries other people will die if the Senneterre ER isn’t reopened soon.
“We need it for the population because the population is growing old here. And everybody’s anxious” she said.
Minister Dubé, however, said he is doing everything he can to reopen emergency rooms, even increasing signing bonuses for nurses in rural areas to $30,000.
Raquel Fletcher is Global News’ National Assembly Reporter