The hospital in Maria, Que., constructed in 1954, is one of at least four civic institutions in town of 2,500 currently grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak.
The hospital, which has 82 beds, serves a population of about 33,000 people in an area that has some of the highest per capita infection COVID-19 infection rates in the province.
The way the second coronavirus wave has washed over the Gaspé area illustrates how quickly things can go wrong in Quebec’s outlying regions.
In the Gaspé, as in other far-flung parts of the province, community spread has taken root within tightly knit, socially active populations.
There are fraying health infrastructures. There is a shortage of health-care workers — and the ones who are on the job in facilities such as the Maria hospital say they’re exhausted.
The cramped building has been updated over the years, but even Premier François Legault described its emergency ward as “dysfunctional and dilapidated” when he passed through town in July.
The main intake department is a corridor that is only about three metres wide. Hospital beds line one of the walls; some are separated from passing traffic by a curtain.
A union representing paramedics in the region has expressed concern that asymptomatic COVID-19 patients could spread the virus in that part of the hospital.
“Everyone passes through the same place,” said André Tremblay-Roy, vice-president of the union and himself a paramedic who transported patients to the hospital last weekend. “The emergency ward is really dated.”
Bricks and mortar buildings are one concern, but the main issue in the Gaspé, as everywhere else, is people.
“The challenge is human resources … but we had a challenge before COVID,” said Connie Jacques, vice-president and director-general of the CISSS Gaspésie, the local health authority.
With staff resigning, sick with COVID-19, resources are stretched
During the pandemic’s first wave, 13,500 health-care workers provincewide were infected, according to a study conducted by the provincial public health research agency. That represented one-quarter of all cases.
Orderlies and nursing assistants accounted for 70 per cent of cases among health-care workers, partly because nearly half the cases were in long-term care facilities. Almost one-third of those 13,500 workers were in hospitals.
In the Gaspé, the local nurses federation and the union representing orderlies, maintenance and kitchen workers are both reporting members resigning in bunches. Others are sick with COVID-19.
Because the numbers in the regions are all smaller — the main COVID-19 hospital in Gaspé has 10 beds set aside for coronavirus patients — every…