MONTREAL — Quebec Premier Francois Legault is calling on physicians to move from hospitals and clinics to shortstaffed long-term care homes to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Legault acknowledged family doctors and specialists are overqualified for the type of work required — feeding and bathing patients and administering medications — but he said their training makes them suited in a time of "national emergency."
Long-term care homes have accounted for a majority of the province's COVID-19 fatalities, and the province says the facilities are lacking about 2,000 nurses and orderlies.
"We need nurses, and they can, with their basic training, they can do most of the jobs of nurses," Legault said of doctors. "So, I'm asking them: 'Please, I know that you're overqualified to do this work, but I have no other choice, so I need physicians to come in our residences to help the nurses.' "
It was not Legault's first appeal, but he was more blunt Wednesday about the lack of manpower, as Quebec announced 52 more deaths linked to the virus to bring the provincial total to 487.
Another 984 cases have required hospitalization, with 218 of those in intensive care.
Legault said medical specialists — some of whom have seen their practices curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — could help in the short-term at the hard-hit homes, where about 1,250 orderlies have either fallen ill, failed to report or can't work.
Health Minister Danielle McCann noted that doctors often volunteer abroad, but this time the humanitarian crisis is at home.
"What we are telling them today is that the humanitarian mission, it's here in Quebec, it is in a CHSLD (long-term care home), and we want our doctors to come on a humanitarian mission for our seniors, those who built Quebec," McCann said.
Legault said he would welcome help in the residences from Canadian Forces personnel but said there would not be enough soldiers with the necessary language skills and training to cover the shortfall.
He acknowledged doctors dispatched to homes would be paid much more than regular staff but said physicians' pay scales are set separately.
"There is a national emergency," Legault said of the staffing shortage. "I'd rather have doctors who come to work as nurses in CHSLDs than to have medical specialists who are in a hospital in front of empty beds because we have postponed surgeries."
The federation representing family doctors said its members have been ready to help since the pandemic struck. "If they can do more, or do other related tasks, they will," it said on Twitter. "But everyone who can help in long-term care homes must contribute. It cannot fall on a few individuals or one or two professions."
Dr. Diane Francoeur, president of the federation of medical specialists, said she and many colleagues will start helping out at long-term care homes beginning Thursday.
"We've been offering our help for weeks, to be told no," she wrote on Twitter. "But know that we will all be fighting for Quebecers."
On Tuesday, Quebec's Health Department began publishing a list of the province's seniors homes hit by COVID-19 and identifying those that are in dire straits due to the epidemic.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the department listed 42 facilities struggling to respond to novel coronavirus outbreaks, with 29 having the most critical red classification, meaning more than a quarter of residents are infected.
According to the list of residences with at least one confirmed resident with COVID-19, first published Tuesday evening, the hardest hit homes are long-term care facilities in Laval, Montreal and Shawinigan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press