Emergency patients waiting for a bed at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre had on average the third longest wait in the province for 2013-14.
According to Alberta Health Services’ 2013-14 Annual Performance Measures Report released this month, the median length of time to be admitted was 12.8 hours. That means that half the patients waited 12.8 hours or longer and half had shorter waits.
Only Edmonton’s Sturgeon Community Hospital, at 20.5 hours, and Grey Nuns Community Hospital, at 16.8 hours, were longer than Red Deer’s wait time.
Red Deer’s admission target for 2014-15 is 9.9 hours.
“We certainly intend to meet that target by the end of this year,” said Kerry Bales, chief zone officer for Alberta Health Services’ Central Zone, on Wednesday.
“There’s definitely opportunity to see enough improvement and we intend to see enough improvement to meet the target, but there are some variable factors throughout the year that we’re just going to have to see.”
In January, AHS changed the way it evaluates health-care delivery by focusing on median wait times when it comes to emergency care.
However, weekly emergency department updates on Calgary and Edmonton hospitals, available online, report that AHS set a target that 75 per cent of patients be “seen, assessed, treated, stabilized and admitted within eight hours by March 2013. A target of 90 per cent has been set for March 2015.”
Red Deer hospital is failing to meet that 75 per cent target because at least 50 per cent of patients were not admitted within eight hours.
Bales said performance measures were changed “to give a more accurate reflection” of the health system’s performance.
Red Deer is working to provide weekly emergency wait times online by the end of March, he added.
Wait time challenges persist in Red Deer as its the only regional hospital in Central Zone for outlying communities as well as the growing city, he said.
“So with the growth of the population, we’re also seeing growth in demand at the site.”
To deal with the increasing demand, AHS is looking at ways to work with primary care practitioners, eliminating any unnecessary delays within the hospital, discharging patients with the supports they need, and building continuing care facilities, he said.
“It really is a combination of making sure we’re operating as efficiently as possible and we’re building as much capacity as possible to meet that growing demand.”
Bales said in the last several weeks, those waiting to leave the hospital for continuing care has been as high as 20 people. The longest waits are for supportive-living care, not long-term.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle said AHS always blames wait times on population growth.
“That’s not accurate. We have a $17-billion Alberta Health Services budget. Yes we have more people coming to the province and that adds to the workloads, but it’s the centralization of those programs in the province that has created the backlog for a multitude of different areas,” Towle said.
Unlike people in Calgary and Edmonton, Central Albertans don’t have the ability to choose which emergency department to visit, making it harder on them, she said.
A Freedom of Information request released last fall by Wildrose showed only 39 per cent of ER patients at the Red Deer hospital were admitted within the eight-hour wait time benchmark in 2013 and patients waited an average of 14.5 hours to be admitted.
Towle said the Wildrose would reduce wait times by reopening all the long-term care beds the Progressive Conservatives closed and use transition beds for acute care patients to alleviate pressures on the emergency department.
Towle said Wildrose would also put $50 million more into home care so people can get the care they need. Last year, AHS cut the time allotted for medication administration to seven minutes from 15 minutes, so less time can be spent on preventive care.
“There’s no opportunity for that home-care person to engage with that person and make sure they’re OK,” Towle said.
When it comes to wait times for being treated and released from emergency in Red Deer, the median length of time was three hours, meaning half the patients waited three hours or longer and half had shorter waits.
Eight hospitals in Alberta had longer average emergency waits from up to 5.1 hours at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital to 3.2 hours at both Edmonton’s Misericordia Community Hospital and Northeast Community Health Centre.
Red Deer’s treatment target for 2014-15 is 2.9 hours.
According to AHS’s former benchmark standard to release 80 per cent of patients within four hours, Red Deer met the target for emergency wait times in over 50 per cent of patients.