As the doors of the emergency department swish open, a man stumbles inside, gasping for breath.
A security guard and volunteer, who are stationed just steps inside the entrance of Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital north of Montreal, ask him if he’s having a heart attack.
Between wheezes, he shakes his head and manages to sputter out a no. Staff quickly assess his COVID-19 risk.
His temperature is taken, he’s given a new mask and, after a brief assessment, whisked into a waiting room — in his case, the yellow zone, which is an area set aside for patients with symptoms of the virus.
Minutes later, he’s wheeled into the ER treatment area and put into an isolation cubicle.
Precautions add to workload
Every patient, symptoms or not, is tested for the virus, but the cubicles keep COVID-positive patients and people suspected of having the virus completely sealed off.
Only designated staff can move in and out of the cubicles, and full personal protective gear is needed.
The precautions are necessary, but it adds to the workload.
“You have to dress appropriately. So it takes a lot more time. One, to go see the patient. Then to take care of the patient. These are patients who often require a lot more care,” said Mélanie Boudreault, who has worked as an ER nurse here for nearly a decade.
ER visits down
Fear of catching COVID-19 means emergency visits are down across the province, said Sébastien Rocheleau, assistant director of nursing operations for the CISSS de Laval, the local public health authority.
By the time some patients show up at the hospital, they are often more ill because they waited to go.
At Cité-de-la-Santé, the number of visits to the ER dropped — from 6,761 in the month of January 2020, to 4,903 in January 2021.
For the first time since the pandemic began, the hospital gave CBC Montreal exclusive access to the ER to see how it has adapted and what precautions it has put in place to keep everyone safe.
What they captured was the frontline of a year-long battle to keep the virus at bay while allowing the emergency medical system to continue to function.
And while the staff knows the latest case numbers are promising, they also know they’re not out of the woods yet.