Lengthy waits got even longer for some patients on ambulance stretchers in a back hallway at Red Deer’s emergency department in the last week, says a Red Deer fire medic.
Earlier this week, a Red Deer woman told the Advocate that her 79-year-old mother with a broken ankle spent 24 hours with ambulance staff at the hospital.
Red Deer fire medic Stephen Belich, president of International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 1190 Red Deer, said that probably happened “more often than not” in the last week with an early flu season, COVID-19, the opioid and healthcare crisis.
“This last week has been particularly worse,” said Belich about some patients experiencing two or three shift changes among EMS crews tending to them who can work 10 to 14-hour shifts.
He said crews get to go home at the end of their shift, while patients remain where family members can’t visit in order to protect the confidentiality of the other hallway patients.
“It’s tough on them. They’re still getting care, and we’re still providing for them and making them comfortable, (but) at the end of the day, they do need to get in and get a hospital bed.”
Belich said EMS monitor, treat, provide hospital food, water, and help patients to the washroom. Doctors will also visit them, order tests and blood work. Some may only need medication and can go home. But often, EMS crews are tending to more than one patient in that hallway in order to free up ambulance crews.
“How do you take them home if you have two or three patients? Now you have to find another ambulance to take them home.”
And it’s more than likely that a crew is looking after even more patients, depending on the level of care they require, he said.
“We have been consolidating because wait times have been so long. Crews are having up to four to six patients at a time to get the other resources back on the street and doing emergency calls.
“It’s been a long week.”
Belich said it’s been tough on EMS crews. More emergency vehicles and more staff to operate them is needed, as well as more staff for existing equipment, and mental health funding for staff.
“It’s getting to a crisis situation. We’ve just been asked to do more and more and more with less and it’s starting to show on people. It’s starting to affect physical and mental health of first responders in our community.”
He said some changes could be made now in Red Deer whose fire engines have advanced life support kits so fire medics can provide treatment. They often arrive first but can’t call off EMS even if it’s not needed to transport a patient. Engines can sometimes wait 30 to 60 minutes for EMS to arrive to cancel transport, tying up both resources.
On Thursday, Premier Danielle Smith announced initiatives to improve EMS response time:
• Fast-tracking ambulance transfers at emergency departments so paramedics are available for more calls.
• Using more appropriate modes of transportation for non-emergency inter-facility transfers.
• Empowering EMS dispatch to step-down calls from 911 to Health Link based on patient need.
• Empowering paramedics to triage whether or not a patient needs to be transferred to an emergency department by ambulance.
To decrease emergency department wait times, additional health professionals will be brought in to improve on-site patient care and management, and more patients will be transferred from hospital beds into more appropriate care settings such as home care, long-term and continuing care facilities.