Montreal parents frustrated that pediatric health appointment hotline nixed
Montreal resident Natalia Mora had been loving a phone service offered by two local pediatric hospitals since September as it ensured her daughter could get quick medical treatment when needed.
“We called a couple of times,” said Mora.
“We got an appointment on the same day and that was fantastic. We can see a doctor, we got a prescription and then she got better.”
And getting appointments quickly was exactly what she needed. With her family doctor on leave for the last three years, she knows just how hard it is to get her daughter in to see a health professional.
“It was really problematic to get an appointment, but with this you get an appointment on the first day or the day after,” said Mora.
Mora’s four-year-old daughter suffers from asthma and has frequent pneumonia.
Now the hotline has been cut and Mora is worried she will face long waits at the emergency room the next time her daughter falls ill.
Avoiding emergency room waits
When the phone service was launched in the fall, the goal was to help alleviate emergency room congestion at the Montreal Children’s and Sainte-Justine hospitals.
The service, named “One Call, One Appointment,” provided a new single number for the island of Montreal, allowing parents of children aged up to age 16 to get a medical appointment for an ailment that did not require a trip to the emergency room.
It was touted in a news release as a “simple and effective solution to support parents faced with a one-off, semi-urgent health problem” by Sainte-Justine’s Dr. Marc Girard.
Pediatric patients were directed by the phone service to the approximately 80 family medicine groups or 350 medical clinics on the island instead.
Since the appointment line was launched, more than 4,5000 appointments have been made.
Nhu Nguyen, who works with the medical group that set up the phone service, said it was a different reality back in September when the line was created.
“We were trying to get people back to school,” said Nguyen, an assistant director with the Département régional de médecine générale de Montréal.
“That’s done and the children are largely back in school.”
With public health restrictions loosening and things returning to normal, the phone line has been phased out — much to the dismay of many parents who spoke with CBC.
Those parents say the hotline was a step in the right direction for pediatric health care, and some are even talking about starting a petition.
Doctor says phone system helped
While hospitals were under pressure back in the fall, things aren’t looking much better now, according to Dr. Michel Tran, who works at a clinic in the Montreal neighbourhood of Ahuntsic.
“The health-care system is pretty much overwhelmed everywhere,” said Tran.
Parents with sick children are forced to rely on walk-in clinics because family doctors have been booked ages ago, said Tran.
Tran said now is not the time to drop a service that was working and he says the hotline provided a reliable support service.
“At the end of the day, I know that, for patients, if I’m not available, there’s somewhere they can go,” Tran said.