Opposition slams CAQ after party backtracks on promise to build 2 mini-hospitals

During the 2022 provincial election campaign, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party promised to build two mini-hospitals — one in Montreal’s east end and the other in Quebec City.

The party has now backtracked, opting instead to build two geriatric clinics.

The move has opposition parties accusing the CAQ of breaking a key election promise and improvising when it comes to improving access to health care. Some experts are also questioning whether this is the most efficient way to provide care to elderly people.

Meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé touted his government’s revised project.

“It falls in line with our priority of improving access,” Dubé said. “One of the issues is access to our emergency rooms, especially considering our aging population. So this is an action that is very targeted.”

Some parts of the CAQ’s plan remain unchanged.

The two geriatric facilities are still expected to be privately run and offer services reimbursed by medicare. The government hopes those facilities serve as a model that could be replicated across the province. 

The clinics would be open 24 hours per day and seven days per week, in case some patients require overnight stays and observation. New patients would be welcome between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

WATCH | Loss of English-speaking doctors in Quebec City has patients concerned about care: 

Dr. Alec Cooper and Dr. Mary Delafield are both retiring just months apart. That’s worrying some patients, who wonder whether they’ll be able to find another English-speaking doctor.

Sonia Bélanger, the provincial minister responsible for seniors, said the clinics would provide “a geriatric approach” to minor emergency care.

Dubé also specified that one of the clinics could be located in the wider Capitale-Nationale region, not necessarily Quebec City.

During the 2022 election campaign, the CAQ said the mini-hospitals would be open as of 2025. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the health minister said that same timeline applies for the revised plan.

Unlikely to reduce trips to ER, expert says

Quoc Nguyen, a geriatrician and a researcher for the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, says it’s still early to assess the CAQ’s plan but he’s skeptical about the notion that geriatric clinics would reduce pressure on emergency rooms.

He said triaging seniors dealing with several health issues can be difficult and it is often best for them to go to the ER even if their problem seems minor.

“Things that seem trivial might mask something that is not,” Nguyen said.

He said rehab services for seniors and better home care access would do a better job of reducing the burden on ERs.

“Every bit of the system can work. It’s just that it’s understaffed and under-resourced and we always concentrate on this focal point that we talk about which is the emergency [room].”

Mylaine Breton, a professor with the Université de Sherbrooke’s faculty of medicine, wonders how these geriatric clinics will be co-ordinated with other existing services. 

“It could be a good idea but we have to be sure that the ministry didn’t just look at its budget and looked at the needs it could meet with this new format.”

A person speaking outdoors.
Québec solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal, seen here in a photo taken in October 2020, says the CAQ’s plan to build geriatric clinics doesn’t make sense and should be scrapped. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

‘Promise things, and not deliver’

Marc Tanguay, the interim leader of the Quebec Liberal Party and the leader of the Official Opposition at the National Assembly, said the CAQ’s announcement amounts to another broken promise and shows a “lack of vision.”

“One of the trademarks of that government is to promise things and not deliver and always finding excuses and people to accuse to justify their own failure,” Tanguay said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Vincent Marissal, the Québec Solidaire MNA for the Montreal riding of Rosemont, who’s also his party’s health critic, chided the province’s health minister for what he felt was a lack of clarity and detail in the government’s plan.

“Now it’s a geriatric clinic but it’s not really a clinic and not really a hospital. There will be staff there, the lights will be on,” Marissal said sarcastically during question period at the National Assembly.

Man standing in front of Quebec flags
Parti Québécois MNA Joël Arseneau said building geriatric facilities is not the most efficient way of improving health-care access for the province’s elderly population. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

“Will the minister abandon this bad idea?”

Marissal also said he’s worried that privately run facilities will take health-care workers away from the publicly run facilities already struggling to have enough staff.

Parti Québecois MNA Joël Arseneau said caring for the elderly should be the priority — not building private facilities.

“Do you need the concept of a private mini-hospitals to take care of the elderly? Absolutely not. It’s always been the public sector that takes care of the elderly.” Arseneau said.

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