Posted at 5:00 am
Almost half the regular workforce was absent from the Urgences-santé call center on Wednesday morning when a report of an 8-month-old baby with breathing difficulties could not be answered immediately. The child was later pronounced dead.
According to the chairman of the Urgences-santé workers’ union, Anick Bélanger, only four emergency medical technicians (RMU) were on duty at the time, including the team leader, out of a possible seven to cover the emergency in the Montreal and Laval territories.
For its part, Urgences-santé acknowledges that not all of the normally assigned staff were on duty, but assures that five RMUs could then take calls from a regular staff of eight, a figure that according to Stéphane Smith is “sufficient to meet the need cover”. , spokesman for the state company.
However, an 911 call for an 8-month-old baby in need at downtown Montreal’s Lincoln Street, placed at 9:07 a.m. by the 911 dispatcher, could not be immediately answered Wednesday amid health emergencies.
As usual, a written call sheet was filled out by the dispatcher at the 911 dispatcher and then sent to Urgences-santé for an ambulance to be dispatched. According to our information, this sheet described the case of an 8-month-old baby with “fever, cough and difficulty breathing”.
A well prioritized call?
“But that’s wide. It may always have been that you had difficulty breathing because you have an illness,” says the spokeswoman for Urgences-santé. The event was then assigned a priority code of 3. This level of prioritization requires an ambulance to drive to the scene, but without turning on the siren.
Eighteen seconds later, Urgences-santé tried again to contact the caller for more details about the child’s condition, but to no avail.
We then tried to continue the evaluation, but nothing came of it. The police then arrive and determine that it is not a matter of fever or cough, but that the baby is not breathing.
Stéphane Smith, spokesman for Urgences-santé
Two officers from the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) determined that even if the call’s priority had then been raised to the most urgent level, i.e. 0, the ambulance would not be there on time, and then decided to take action to rush the child to the hospital, where it was pronounced dead.
Urgences-santé denies having wrongly prioritized the call, which according to them corresponded to a priority code 3 according to the information entered in the call log and the classification system used by the company.
A coroner will investigate
The Coroner’s Office confirmed Thursday that an inquest “is underway to establish the causes and circumstances of the child’s death.”
“At the end of his examination, the coroner will write a detailed report detailing the identity of the deceased, the date and place of his death, and the causes and circumstances leading up to the death,” his spokesman Jake Lamotta Granato explains at length.
Urgences-santé will re-evaluate the entire intervention. “If an unusual situation arises, we have a [équipe de] Risk management that handles the intervention from start to finish. We are examining the call from beginning to end and it is possible that there will be changes as it is possible that there will be none,” explains Stéphane Smith.
However, according to information provided to the union, they concede that they have “no reason to doubt the correct prioritization of the call” depending on the workforce available that day.
Lack of “returning” staff
But could the child have been saved if the first call had been answered immediately? Anick Bélanger from the Urgences-santé union refused to come forward.
“In an ideal world, an RMU could have answered the call and filled out the questionnaire right away. Would that have changed anything? We don’t know, it’s very hypothetical. But in the best of all worlds, that’s exactly what you should do,” she admits.
Be that as it may, Urgences-santé, according to her, suffers from a “recurrent” shortage of staff, particularly in the RMUs. The company employs approximately 107 full-time and part-time RMUs.
“This year, according to my calculations, we have more departures than arrivals,” said Mme Belanger.
These many departures can be explained in part by the “enormously emotionally demanding” work, and this against the background of an industrial dispute that has been ongoing since the end of the last collective agreement for Urgences-santé employees. more than two years ago, says Anick Bélanger.