Emergency wait times took big jump in January

Emergency department patients had lengthy waits to be admitted to acute care beds in January at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre — including three patients who each waited more than 100 hours.

Emergency department patients had lengthy waits to be admitted to acute care beds in January at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre — including three patients who each waited more than 100 hours.

The emergency department has about 50 stretchers and lounge chairs for patients in serious condition waiting for beds.

Sylvia Barron, director of emergency and critical care at the hospital, said a review of the three protracted stays in emergency was underway.

“They stayed in emergency department for a good four days,” Barron said on Tuesday.

They were waiting for specialized testing and assessment, which took longer so they weren’t the normal emergency patient.

Barron said excluding those patients, the wait-time for a bed was still higher than usual and an investigation into January wait-times has begun.

Overall, emergency patients waited a median of 18 hours before getting an acute care bed, meaning half the patients waited longer than 18 hours and half had shorter waits.

The median wait-time was 11.8 hours in December, 14.9 in November, 11.2 in October and 13 in September.

“It may be just a blip in January. We’re hoping February will be a little bit better,” Barron said.

The emergency room overcapacity plan to reduce wait times was triggered 23 times in January compared to seven times in December and 15 in November.

The overcapacity plan involves moving existing patients who can be discharged to dedicated lounge chairs or beds in the hospital, sending them to nearby hospitals or long-term care facilities, or home with home care support to make room for emergency patients.

Alberta Health Services implemented the overcapacity plan in December 2010 to reduce wait-times to under eight hours for emergency patients who need acute care beds, and those who haven’t been admitted to be treated and released within four hours.

The wait for a hospital bed in Red Deer had some declines from the fall of 2010.

This January, patients who were treated and sent home spent a median time of 2.9 hours at the emergency department, 2.8 hours in December, 3.0 in November, 3.0 in October and 3.2 in September.

Barron said several factors may have contributed to the longer wait-time for beds. The length of hospital stay was up in January. The number of discharges was down. Urgent operating room cases has been increasing in recent months, which would impact available beds. More people may have needed isolation beds.

She said the hospital will also be looking at staffing levels to ensure there is enough staff for patients as the demand changes throughout the day and night to get the emergency department back on track.

Red Deer North Liberal candidate Michael Dawe said emergency department wait times are a long-time problem the province has yet to solve through proper planning and management.

“This didn’t just happen. But (the province) keeps treating this like it’s a big surprise,” said Dawe, a former chair of Red Deer Regional Hospital Board and former trustee of David Thompson Health Region.

“We’ve had these jumps before. More than a year ago they said they had all these measures to make sure we wouldn’t have them.”

He said issues that contribute to wait-times have been well known like the lack of hospital beds for patients, the lack of continuing care beds to transfer seniors out of hospital beds, and not enough family doctors forcing people to go the emergency room.

“In my basement, I bet you I have literally have boxes and boxes of reports with the same suggestions on how they are going to fix it.”

Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski said work is underway to address wait-times, for example Covenant Health is building a 100-bed aging-in-place facility in Red Deer.

“I know how difficult and frustrating that can be when you’re in the ER. We are doing something about it,” Jablonski said.

She said the Centre of Disease Control says 40 per cent of all visits to the ER could be managed in other care clinics or urgent care centres and the province is working to develop family care centres that will be open longer hours with nurse practitioners and doctors.

More could also be done to advertise the toll-free advice line Health Link to guide people to the proper health care facilities, she said.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health and Wellness Fred Horne directed Alberta Health Services to take steps immediately to reduce occupancy in acute care in the major hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary by Oct. 31.