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Parents rush son to Ontario for emergency care after 15-hour wait at Montreal hospital

Christos Lianos is recovering from complications related to a burst appendix. Though he is a student in Montreal, he received care in Kingston, Ont.

That’s because his parents rushed him to his hometown after waiting 15 hours in the Royal Victoria Hospital’s emergency room.

Lianos, 20, said he doesn’t like thinking about what might have happened to him if he had stayed in Montreal, waiting for care that didn’t seem to be coming.

“If I had gone home or stayed for, who knows how long in that waiting room, what could have happened to me?” He asked. “Would I be here today?”

It was mid-June when Lianos started experiencing significant abdominal pain and a high fever. He had been feeling off for a few days, but had taken a turn for the worst the night of June 14. So, he called his parents. 

“Automatically, me and my husband, we thought: ‘My God, that sounds like his appendix,'” said Niki Lianos, Christos’s mother.

Driving 3 hours for care

Niki Lianos told her son to go to the hospital immediately. And then she and her husband drove three hours from Kingston to be with him.

In the 15 hours he was at the hospital, which is part of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), nurses checked on him twice to assess his symptoms and gave him Tylenol every six hours for the pain, the family said.

Lianos said she lost her patience and yelled at the nurse, saying had she known they’d be waiting for so long, they would have gone back to Kingston for treatment.

Niki Lianos, centre, says she and her husband drove their son three hours to Ontario for medical care after a long wait at the MUHC in Montreal. (Submitted by Niki Lianos)

The nurse told her to take him there, she said, and that’s exactly what she did. After a three-hour drive back to Kingston, the family learned Christos’s appendix had burst.

He ended up staying at the hospital for around 10 days, mostly in the intensive-care unit.

“We took the risk and that was the biggest risk we ever took in our lives because, potentially, it could have burst on the road,” said Niki Lianos. “Then what would we have done?”

Now she is speaking out to warn people about the wait times in Montreal hospitals and how dangerous they can be.

Dr. Judy Morris, president of the Association des médecins d’urgence du Québec, said many clinics are closed and have reduced hours during the summer. Because of that, she explained, many more people are headed to the emergency room for care and subsequently leaving without having been seen.

“These patients can be ticking time bombs because they leave and they might have something serious,” she said.

MUHC says hospital was busy

Rebecca Burns, MUHC spokesperson, said the Glen Site’s emergency department was fully staffed on the evening of June 14 when Christos Lianos sought care.

There were two physicians working overnight, June 14 to the morning of June 15, which is the usual staffing, said Burns in an email.

There were three doctors working during the day on June 15, plus a medical co-ordinator, which again, is the usual staffing, she said.

However, the emergency department was at 197 per cent capacity on June 14 with over 30 patients from the previous evening still to be seen.

Those patients were of higher priority or had been there longer, she said. The next day, June 15, the emergency department hovered around 200 per cent occupancy, with a peak at 225 per cent.

“The situation did not improve until the following night,” Burns said. “It is difficult to give optimal care under such circumstances, even while working at maximum efficiency.”

A patient will receive a call from the emergency department if they leave without seeing a doctor first, she said. This is not a call to be seen by a physician, but a protocol to ensure the patient was able to receive care or, if necessary, to be reoriented to a clinic, she said.

The rate of patients leaving without being seen during this particular period was 12.7 per cent of all visits. 

“We average 130 visits a day. Therefore, on average, our nurses call back 17 patients a day,” said Burns. 

“We call three times if not reached immediately, followed by a letter if the nurse feels the patient needs to follow up on a result from a blood or radiology test.”

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