Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

WRHA flatlines on ER targets

Comes up short on its goals, regresses in some areas

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The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority admits it has failed to make any measurable progress over the past 12 months in meeting a series of performance targets for city hospital emergency rooms.

A year ago, WRHA president and CEO Arlene Wilgosh unveiled new goals for ER wait times and ambulance off-load waits in a speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

By 2015, she said, the WRHA wanted to be able to treat and discharge 90 per cent of emergency room patients (those not admitted to hospital) within four hours and to ensure nobody sat in an ER for longer than 24 hours. If an ER patient needed to be admitted to hospital, she said, a bed should be found for that person within eight hours 90 per cent of the time.

Also by 2015, she announced, the region wanted to be able to unload all ambulances at city hospitals within 60 minutes. And the WRHA sought to lower the number of non-emergency patients seeking treatment at ERs to 20 per cent or less.

In an interview Wednesday, Wilgosh released statistics that show the region has made little or no progress in achieving these goals in the past year. In a couple of areas, it lost ground slightly.

"The numbers are what I call flat," the WRHA boss said.

Wilgosh likened the effort it will take to reach the region's ER targets to turning around the Titanic. She refused Wednesday to categorize the interim results as frustrating -- although she said she won't hesitate to do so a year from now if the numbers don't improve.

"Then you could say that I'm frustrated," she said with a smile. "That's assuming that I still have my job," she cracked.

The WRHA and the province have several new initiatives in the works or already underway to reduce ER and hospital admission waits and to try to steer non-emergency patients away from hospital emergency departments.

Included among these is the creation of QuickCare clinics -- designed to treat less serious injuries and illnesses -- staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners. There are two such clinics in the city right now and two more are expected to be opened this year.

There is an ongoing advertising campaign and website -- myrightcare.ca -- encouraging patients who don't need emergency treatment to seek quicker and more appropriate alternatives to a hospital emergency room.

The health authority is also looking at improvements in overall hospital practices that will ease the pressure on ERs. For example, hospitals sometimes keep patients longer than they need to because of delays in arranging needed supports once patients are discharged. One of the initiatives the region has launched is a more co-ordinated approach in which post-hospital discharge supports are assessed and put in place as the patient is admitted.

Wilgosh said there were some within the system who questioned the need for setting performance targets when she unveiled them at the business luncheon last Jan. 22. But there has been better buy-in as the year has progressed, and the targets have "really motivated the system" to improve, she said.

Cameron Friesen, the Progressive Conservatives' acting health critic, said Wednesday the WRHA and the provincial government should be disheartened by the interim results.

"I think there should have been some evidence in the data that we're moving forward. I'm discouraged by the fact that there isn't. I think that the targets weren't aggressive enough (in the first place)," he said.

Friesen said the percentage of non-emergency patients seeking treatment in city hospital ERs is already among the highest in the country.

He also said the fines levied against the WRHA by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service for lengthy delays in off-loading ambulance patients continue to mount. Information obtained by the provincial Tories states the WRHA paid $1.17 million in such levies through the first nine months of last year, compared with $1.2 million all of the previous year, Friesen noted.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2014 A3

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