Central Albertans with health care emergencies early Sunday morning were warned they would have to wait almost 18 hours to see a doctor according to a sign in the Red Deer emergency department.
The estimated wait time on display in the waiting room at 2:02 a.m. was 17 hours and 49 minutes, which was shared on Twitter.
@AB_EMS_War_Room @DShepYEG @JasonCoppingAB @RachelNotley @CTVNews— Justin Graham (@JustinG77416392) October 2, 2022
This was sent to me by a colleague that was working in the Red Deer Regional Hospital last night (1OCT2022). How long is too long to be seen by a physician in an ER?? pic.twitter.com/C2Y4q0qOYS
But Alberta Health Services (AHS) says despite the posted delay, the wait time dropped to 2.5 hours by 7:30 a.m.
“Wait-times are a snapshot in time, fluctuate throughout the day, and can be longer in the early morning when staffing levels are lower. Wait-times generally improve significantly when the day shift begins,” AHS said in a statement.
AHS said the average wait time on Sunday was three hours and 13 minutes, on Friday it was about five hours, and on Sunday it was about three hours and 48 minutes.
“Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre continues to be very busy with increased patient volumes through the emergency department, and patients presenting with high acuity needs. Capacity has become increasingly challenged in recent days, despite efforts to free up bed spaces, and this is resulting in some long waits in the emergency department at times, particularly for less-urgent patients,” AHS said.
“Some minor treatment spaces were not available at times over the weekend due to staff absences, which contributed to delays in treating less-urgent patients.”
In addition to increased emergency department volumes, capacity across the hospital was also challenged over the weekend, AHS said.
Lengthy posted wait times are not uncommon at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. During the September long weekend a similar photo was shared estimating a 14-hour wait.
But a 17-hour notice is unprecedented, said Red Deer fire medic Stephen Belich, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1190 Red Deer.
“We haven’t heard of anything that long. Unfortunately it seems they’re getting longer and longer,” Belich said.
He hoped the estimated wait wouldn’t get any worse. But that’s something he has hoped each time the display reached a new high.
“Everybody’s trying to do their best in the situation that we have.”
Belich said a lengthy wait to see a doctor is concerning, but ambulance crews do their best to make their patients comfortable while they wait at the hospital, and if their conditions get worse hospital staff are available.
He said at times EMS staff spend their entire shift at the hospital with patients they bring in by ambulance. But Red Deer’s integrated EMS runs advanced life support on fire trucks so they can also respond when ambulances are unavailable.
“Any medications and any treatment we would need to do on an ambulance we can do on a fire truck. Unfortunately we can’t transport, but at least we can be providing service while we are waiting for an ambulance,” Belich said.
AHS said the number of admitted patients in the emergency department ranged from six to 16 over the weekend.
“All patients are triaged on arrival at the emergency department and are prioritized depending on the urgency of their condition or injury. Critically ill or injured patients will always be seen immediately, and those with non-urgent concerns may wait longer to be seen depending on resources,” AHS said.