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COVID-19 in Quebec: 6,700 avoidable deaths?

Montreal, April 8, 2021 – Nearly one year ago, the Quebec government decreed a temporary end to the transfer of COVID-19 patients to CHSLDs, Quebec’s long-term care centres. To this day, Quebec’s extremely high death count among seniors in CHSLDs continues to raise eyebrows. A new publication from the Montreal Economic Institute calls into question the inevitability of these deaths.

“When you compare Quebec to other countries, the first thing that jumps out at you is the number of COVID-19 deaths in the province’s CHSLDs,” says economist Peter St. Onge, co-author of the publication. “As of March 1st, 2021, 75% of COVID-19 deaths in the province had occurred in long-term care centres. In contrast, these accounted for just 43% of deaths in France, 34% in the UK, and 28% in Germany.”

“If Quebec’s COVID-19 deaths had been distributed similarly to what was observed in these three countries, between 5,800 and 6,700 fewer seniors would have succumbed to the coronavirus. We all understand now that the decision to transfer patients from hospitals to CHSLDs at the start of the crisis was a mistake. But that’s not the end of the story,” adds the researcher.

“Quebec’s senior care system differs from that of European countries in two ways: We do not have enough health care workers to be able to intervene effectively, and the proportion of our seniors who live in long-term care centres is much higher,” says economist Maria Lily Shaw, co-author of the publication. “Indeed, 9.5% of Quebec seniors live in long-term care facilities. This compares to just 2% of seniors in Italy and 3.5% in the United Kingdom. So it stands to reason that better home care services could have helped mitigate the situation that arose in Quebec.”

“Numerous factors made the situation tragically predictable. Indeed, the lack of medical staff and our overcrowded hospitals are well-known problems that have persisted for decades. We’ve all experienced the excessively long waiting times for treatment that prevail here. No other rich Western country has this problem,” points out the economist.

“Moreover, a British study shows that there was a 20% rise in cancer deaths over the past year in that country due to delayed treatment. Given that their health care system has more capacity than ours, we can only wonder how many additional deaths we could have avoided in this regard,” she concludes.

The Economic Note entitled “Quebec’s COVID-19 LTC Disaster: Up to 6,700 Lives Could Have Been Saved” is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent public policy think tank. Through its publications, media appearances, and advisory services to policy-makers, the MEI stimulates public policy debate and reforms based on sound economics and entrepreneurship.


Interview requests: Marie-Eve McNicoll, Communications Advisor, Cell. 581-777-5060, Email: memcnicoll@iedm.org

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