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Quebec suspends non-essential surgeries to add staff to long-term care homes

MONTREAL — The Quebec government is delaying non-essential activities in hospitals for the next two weeks to free up all available doctors and nurses to work full time in long-term care homes hit hard by COVID-19.

MONTREAL — The Quebec government is delaying non-essential activities in hospitals for the next two weeks to free up all available doctors and nurses to work full time in long-term care homes hit hard by COVID-19.

Premier Francois Legault repeated Monday that the facilities are facing severe staffing shortages due to nurses and orderlies being ill or unable to work.

And with 4,038 people infected with COVID-19 in long-term care and seniors' residences as of Monday, Legault said the homes need doctors to fill in to help stem the tide.

"My goal is to stabilize the situation in every affected residence," Legault told a COVID-19 briefing. "That's why I've asked that all available physicians work full time in the residences for the next two weeks — it will help us gain time and save the lives of our most vulnerable."

Quebec announced Monday the number of deaths in the province due to COVID-19 stands at 939, and the province added nearly a thousand more confirmed cases to reach 19,319 — more than half the national total.

Legault reassured patients stricken with cancer or heart problems that their surgeries would go ahead as planned.

The province had already curbed elective surgeries to free up about 6,000 hospital beds in anticipation of a COVID-19 outbreak that would result in many more hospitalizations. But the government wasn't counting on the surging number of cases in the province's private and public nursing homes.

"What we are doing now is ask those people — especially the physicians, the specialists — to come and work in our residences," said Legault, who has been repeating the same mantra for the past week about bulking up long-term care home staff.

"Maybe I wasn't clear enough last week when I said that, but those people, we need them full time," Legault added. "I don't want to restart every day with a new physician in a new residence — I want them to come full time for the next two weeks."

The province has arranged for hotel rooms and is calling on doctors and nurses from outside the Montreal area to lend a hand in the province's hardest-hit region.

While about 100 doctors have started working at the homes, along with 65 Canadian Armed Forces members on Monday, immediate help is still needed. There are reinforcements coming —  Health Minister Danielle McCann noted nearly 2,200 medical graduates have also enlisted to help at long-term care facilities for the summer months.

The provincial figures show 1,169 people are hospitalized and 198 are in intensive care.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, noted the average intensive care stay is about five days and in about 86 per cent of cases, patients recover or are able to leave the ICU.

Legault also ruled out schools reopening by May 4, the date the province had targeted as a possible return to class.

The premier noted any decision to reopen schools will come with a two-week delay to prepare for the opening.

He added waiting until the fall to reopen everything at once wasn't workable.

"We don't expect to reopen schools in the next two weeks, but after that, we don't exclude any scenario," Legault said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April, 20, 2020.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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