Montreal crisis line closes for first time in decades amid critical staff shortage

Published Dec. 23, 2021 8:27 p.m. ET

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MONTREAL -- A 24-hour crisis help line in Montreal is being forced to close for the first time in nearly 35 years because too many staff members are either on sick leave or burnt out.

The holiday closure was difficult but necessary, according to West Island Crisis Centre President Deborah St-Martin.

“They're doing double shifts, they're calling in sick, we have three people on sick leave, so we knew that the holidays were going to be very hard,” said St-Martin, who added that the temporary holiday closure was a difficult but necessary choice to make.

The West Island Crisis Centre will close Friday and hopefully reopen Jan. 3.

Ordinarily, it offers round-the-clock assistance, fielding 1,500 calls each month. The centre also offers emergency housing.

But St-Martin says the centre is short staffed, and those who remain are just too exhausted to work.

“With COVID-19, nobody's applying for the jobs,” she said. “There are still openings in the public sector, so they're leaving to go to hospitals, CLSCs, and stuff like that.”

Intervention centres province-wide are experiencing labour shortages. Some are calling on the government to increase funding so that local organizations can raise staff salaries.

Timing is critical, they say, as public demand for mental health services is increasing.

“Our responders have more calls coming in, and it is directly related to the pandemic,” said Kathy Laramee, Deputy Director of Suicide Action Montreal.

Suicide Action Montreal partners with the West Island Clinic. She says it’s still too early to say whether the closure will affect their call volume.

The regional health authority says it is concerned about the closure, writing in a statement to CTV that “the mental health of Quebecers is being put to the test with the emergence of the new variant and because the holiday season is an especially difficult time for some.” 

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